What Is Peppergrass: Peppergrass Information And Care In Gardens

What Is Peppergrass: Peppergrass Information And Care In Gardens

By: Liz Baessler

Peppergrass (Lepidium virginicum) is a very common plant that grows all over the place. It was grown and eaten both in the Incan and Ancient Roman Empires, and today it can be found virtually everywhere in the United States. It spreads easily and is often treated as a weed, but many gardeners and foragers appreciate it for its sharp, peppery flavor. Keep reading to learn more peppergrass information, like peppergrass uses and how to grow peppergrass.

What is Peppergrass?

Peppergrass is an annual, or winter annual, that will grow in most climates. It can thrive in many types of soil, in full sun to partial shade. It is often found in disturbed ground and in urban areas, like vacant lots and roadsides.

The plant can grow to three feet (1 m.) in height and become bushy when it has no other competition. It starts out as a low-growing rosette that bolts upward rapidly to form long, thin leaves, small white flowers, and seed pods.

Growing peppergrass plants is very easy, as they reseed themselves and tend to spread to places they’re not wanted. In fact, peppergrass management is usually more difficult and more important than peppergrass care. That said, it does have a useful place in the garden… with careful maintenance.

How to Grow Peppergrass in Gardens

Also called poor man’s pepper, peppergrass is part of the mustard family and has a distinct and pleasant spicy flavor. All parts of the plant are edible, and peppergrass uses have a wide range. The leaves can be eaten raw or used in cooking the way arugula or other mustard greens would be. The seeds can be ground up and used in the same way pepper is used. Even the roots can be pulverized and mixed with salt and vinegar for a very good horseradish alternative.

When growing peppergrass plants, remove most of the flowers before the seed pods have a chance to drop. This will ensure that some new plants grow in the spring, but they won’t overrun your garden.

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A leafy plant with several distinct, though closely related varieties, cress can be grown in wet soil or even on damp paper towels. If you're interested in a fun growing cress experiment, it's possible to do so with little to no gardening experience.

Most types of cress can be grown in a paper towel, including watercress (Nasturtium officinale) and garden cress (Lepidium sativum), also known as peppergrass. It takes only about two weeks to grow cress in this manner.

Types of Cress

Garden cress is sometimes termed as the broadleaf cress, as it has flat yet bright green leaves that are normally two inches wide and four inches long.

Australian cress is another term for the golden-leafed broadleaf cress, which is an annual plant that normally thrives in damp soil.

Curly cress has leaves that are finely divided, which somehow resembles chervil or parsley atop thin, branching stems. It is also called as early winter cress, cresson, upland cress, curlicress, moss curled cress, fine-curled cress, or extra-curled cress. Curly cress is a biennial that thrives in damp soil.

The last type is the watercress, which is an annual plant that usually grows in water.

It can also be pot planted indoors, in a tray of water or alongside of a watercourse or stream. Watercress can only be grown in soil that is in gently running water.

Varieties of Fenugreek

Unless you are a commercial grower in India, it’s nearly impossible to find different official varieties of fenugreek. However, depending on where you source your seeds, your plants may exhibit different characteristics.

If you buy fenugreek as a cover crop, those seeds will tend to produce more leaves for longer and should be good for multiple harvests. If you buy from seed companies that supply primarily home gardeners you can tell a lot from the descriptions and photos.

For example, if the seeds are called methi rather than fenugreek, they may produce more leaves. Similar to cilantro and coriander, fenugreek primarily refers to the seed while the term ‘methi’ refers to the leaves.

Look for descriptions that best match your growing fenugreek goals. If you really just want seeds, buy seeds from distributors that proclaim prolific seed production and large pods. For leaves, look for descriptions like ‘large leaf size’ and ‘multiple harvests.’

Peppergrass Lepidium virginicum

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Peppergrass, or Poor Man’s Pepper, is an annual plant that grows from a single taproot. It is in the Brassicaceae (mustard) family and it earned its name for the pepper-like flavour. Interestingly, Pliny the Elder (23 AD – August 25, 79 AD), who was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, wrote about pepperweed plant in Naturalis Historia. About one thousand years before that the Incas were cultivating this plant.

Distinguishing Features

Peppergrass’ most identifiable characteristic is its raceme which comes from the plant's highly branched stem. It gives the top part of this plant a similar appearance of a bottle brush. Flowers grow at the top of the racemes. The flat, circular seed pods appear below the flowers. It generally appears from May to November in the northern hemisphere.


This wild edible has tiny white flowers with 4 petals, (minute or sometimes absent), 1-3mmlong in a cross form and it has two or four stamens. It has four sepals, cupped, greenish-white, with scarious margins about 1mm long. The flowers are arranged in elongated clusters.


The alternate, toothed leaves are lance-shaped. The leaves are somewhat hairy. The stem leaves are lance-shaped. At the base of the plant the leaves are basal and they grow 2 to 15 cm long with large terminal lobe and several small lateral lobes.


Poor Man's Pepper grows between 15 and 60 cm tall.


This wild edible can be found along roadsides, fields, waste areas, disturbed sites, prairies and pastures. It grows all over Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Central America, Europe, parts of Asia, South America and Australia. It prefers dry, sunny locations.

Edible Parts

The entire plant is edible. Young leaves can be used as a potherb, sautéed or used fresh in salads. The young seedpods can be used as a substitute black pepper. The leaves contain protein, iron, vitamin A and vitamin C. The flowers can be tossed into a salad and the roots. This entire plant can be put into a food processor along with turmeric, vinegar, miso, garlic and salt to make wild mustard. Collect roots, wash them, crush them and add vinegar and salt you have a horseradish substitute.

Growing peppers in home gardens

Peppers (Capsicum annum, C. chinense) can be sweet or hot, tiny or a foot long, and range in color from green, yellow, orange, red and purple, to brown.

Sweet peppers include banana, bell, cherry and pimiento types. Hot peppers include ancho, chili, habanero, jalapeño, hot banana and serrano types.

The compound that makes peppers taste hot is capsaicin and is in the seeds and the whitish membrane inside the fruits. Removing seeds and membrane before cooking or eating raw reduces the hotness of peppers.

Soil pH and fertility

Soil testing and fertilizer

  • Have your soil tested to determine pH.
  • Peppers do best in soil with pH between 6.5 and 7.
    • Apply phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) according to soil test recommendations. Many Minnesota soils have enough phosphorus.
    • Unless your soil test report specifically recommends additional phosphorus, use a low- or no-phosphorus fertilizer.
    • Too much nitrogen fertilization will lead to plants that are bushy, leafy and slow to bear fruit.
  • Do not use any fertilizer containing a weed killer ("Weed and Feed"), as it may kill your vegetable plants.
  • Improve your soil by adding well-rotted manure or compost in spring or fall. Do not use fresh manure as it may contain harmful bacteria and may increase weed problems.

Selecting plants

Finding and buying pepper plants

If you buy plants from a garden center, choose sturdy plants up to a foot tall. The garden center should have stems at least the width of a pencil and the leaves should be closely spaced up the stem. Do not buy plants with spots on their leaves, which could increase the chance of diseases in your garden.

If you buy plants from a mail-order catalog, you may need to keep them indoors until it is time to set them out. Treat them as if you had started them yourself.

Choosing pepper varieties

Check the “Days to Maturity” or “Days to Harvest” estimate in the seed or plant description.

Look for peppers described as “widely adapted” and “cold tolerant.” Some seed catalogs will classify their offerings, pointing out varieties that are the best choices for northern gardeners.

In general, smaller-fruited peppers are more tolerant of both cool and hot temperatures, so while you may enjoy the challenge of growing big bell peppers, planting some smaller sweet peppers will result in a more satisfying harvest.


Start pepper seeds about eight weeks before planting outside. This is earlier than you would normally start tomato seeds.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Flower: Four petals, two stamen. Fruit: See seed. Leaves: Lobbed, toothed, varies, long to lance shape. Stem: Erect. Seed: Seed pods vary in shape round the stem. Root: Tap root vertical

TIME OF YEAR: Springtime into summer

ENVIRONMENT: Well-drained soil, sandy to rich, old pastures, gardens, lawns, roadside, nearly any sunny spot

METHOD OR PREPARATION: Leaves as potherb, seeds for spice or pepper flavoring, can use flowers to flavor vinegar. Some young leaves can be used raw in salads. Try a little first. Can blanch leaves then saute.

OMG. I HAVE HIT THE JACKPOT. I’ve been looking for an informative and easy to understand website about “foraging” wild/natural plants here in central Florida. THANK YOU SO MUCH. I’m am so excited about learning more from your website I can hardly contain myself. LOL. Do you have a “handbook” with pix/info about native plants I can “forage” here in north Brevard. I’ve already discovered this “Poor-man’s-Pepper” plant and I’ve recently discovered the American BeautyBerry’s. I am looking forward to exploring your website. So again, excuse my enuthisiam, THANK YOU!

thanks for writing… no I don’t have a handbook.. that’s something I have to work on. PS: I used to live in Mims…

another question- how do i germinate them!? the lepidium and the persimmon?! The acorns (grub free and unwanted for the flour you’ve taught me how to make) that i want to sit under shade of before i die, how do i get them to germinate, to tenderly sprout? All of these wonderful plants you’ve shown me i will to spread and sow in the areas i know, in secret gardens and hidden plots. but alas the info for when to plant i do not find among your site, or if the seeds need to be cold treated. so would you then do an episode or article, on what could become of the seeds, whose apple you use to make what im sure is the best, hard cider? this way when i see the juniper i can bring it home, and keep it. grow it and have it forever. or if you already have an episode or article on seed/nut germination could you direct me to it? i like foraging and all but i would love to have all the wild bounty in my backyard.

As I answered elsewhere it is a complex topic. Some seeds require not treatment at all to germinate others require chill hours, light, fermenting, humidity, a combination… one good book is Seed To Seed by Suzanne Ashworth.

Orlando here !! Pepper grass is so abundant here. My best friend’s dad was Morgan Alderman from Morgan Alderman Road in Mims on Lake Harney. Small World it is.

Hey Deane, have you eaten the Lepidium didymum (LESSER SWINECRESS)? It grows pretty much all over Florida, in scattered counties. I read that it is peppery, like a hot cress. http://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Plant.aspx?id=398

I like Lepidium virginicum as a nibble for its spiciness.
It seems that the spiciest seeds are the fatter light green ones… older thinner seeds don’t seem so spicy. Plus, dried seeds have almost no flavor whatsoever.
I have nibbled the roots a bit, but they seem pretty flavorless…
The plants around here however, seem to be a mower induced, micro ecotype, scrubby and about 5 inches tall. There is no question as to whether it is the right plant or not… it just looks like the midget version.

When I was a child I used to snack on this stuff!

On stressing days (like after a morning game) I’d find myself a shady area under a tree or patch of grass and watch the clouds pass by while nibbling on the ‘weed’. I’d carefully peel the hearts, eat the seeds, then the hearts finally. Very relaxing, although I’ve now read that it has stress-relief properties. Funny that!

Recently I moved across the country (from west to east Canada) and so far I’ve not found any of them here, even though they ‘should’ be about. But I’ll keep looking!

I love your website btw – lots of good information with a healthy dose of humor. You can be sure my future gardens will be full of ‘weeds’ such as the above.

For a while I have been wondering the name was of this very common plant that is not Shephard’s Purse, but which must be closely related. Thanks for clearing up my mystery.

the incas were amazing. they had beter postal service than any where at any time in recorded history, they wove fabric that can only be dreamed of by modern textilist(?). most importantly, they took the best food crops in the world, and turned them into root crops! can anyone here say that they have gone a week since being weened where they did not eat an incan crop? maybe once or twice for me.

I loved your class in Port Char. on the 13th of April. Thank you again for sharing your knowledge with us! I had a quick question about the Poor Man’s Pepper. Could it be cultivated now, then dried to use in November? My lawn is overgrown with Biden, pepper and also that cucumber flavored plant you taught us about. Want to add some to my squirrel meat in November when season opens. But I vaguely remember you saying that the cucumber one is a springtime plant. So wondered about drying it to use later. Any ideas? Thank you again for your class and time. You are a wonderful teacher.

Any tips on processing the roots? I tasted them and liked the horse radish flavor, but after cleaning them, i tried to use them to no avail. I pounded them, chopped them and put them in the food processor. After nearly a half hour of processing all i seem to end up with is gnarled rope. thanks for any advice!

Here in the Himalayas where they are native, we eat Lepidium latifolium after leaching the bitterness out. It’s a delicious green, like spinach but thicker and richer. In the US I read that it is an invasive weed. So if you have a local infestation, here’s how to use it:

When it sprouts in the spring (one of the earliest plants, due to its deep rampant runner roots) pick the tips with small leaves, total about 4 to 6 inches at the end of each branch. Don’t take the thicker leaves. You can keep harvesting it again several times, but quit when the tips start forming flower heads. The tips and their stems, even if thick, are tender and succulent.

Boil them about 5 min., till a sharp mustardy smell fills the kitchen and the greens turn a darker color. Leave to cool, then soak in plenty of fresh water for a day or two, changing the water for fresh when you get around to it. If it’s your first time, soak for two days, but if you like faintly bitter foods, or if the soaking is very effective, then they are good after one day.

Taste, and when the bitterness is gone, chop roughly and fry like spinach with some onions and garlic. Here it’s a traditional breakfast with chapattis and it’s yummy!

We dry a lot for winter every year. Just strew the tips out in a single layer somewhere dry and well ventilated. Our climate is desert maybe in a humid climate you’d have to put them in a dryer. They keep a nice fresh green color. When using the dried ones later, do the same as for fresh: boil and then soak, but one day is probably enough now.

This is exactly the same method we use for caper greens, Capparis spinosa. Pick the shoots in the spring, and the thick stems are actually very yummy. Boil a few minutes, then soak in a few changes of fresh water for a day or two, and then fry, and wow, they are the most delicious meal with chapattis!

But Lepidium latifolium is a very vigorous and rampant wild plant forming dense stands, while capers are few and far between.

So, does pennycress have the same uses as peppergrass?

Different families, different uses.

Thought you might enjoy this information about peppergrass:
Common backyard weed may curb cancer risk:

If you note they included me as one of the references for the article.

Here in central Mexico, this plant is used as a tea to treat upset stomachs and aid in other digestive issues. Enjoyed reading your article here!

Concerning the four different Lepidiums, when you say the shape of the seeds spell T.H.O.R., what do you mean?

One is shaped like a Tooth, one is shaped like a heart….

Great info so needed on pepper grass.

When I moved to north Florida in 96′ , my JROTC teacher took the class around the outsides of the school grounds showing us various edible plants and helpful one’s. This one in this article we found all over one area . He gave a explanation of the plant and some of us tried it, had a taste of a radish from that one I tried. I see it everywhere around me and it has just a grass earthy taste, some reason it didn’t feel like it was a edible version of it. I Don’t know.

I’m curious about a tuber I dug up in my garden. I tilled down about 1′-18″, and found these tubers that’s are smaller than a Clive if garlic and smell like black pepper My daughter’s ex is a farmer and survivalist, he says that I can dry them and use them as a seasoning. He didn’t tell me the name, though. Any clue? They were growing deep under some clover in the garden.

I ate some whole boiled L. virginicum and it had a pleasant potato like taste. No pepper taste though, 100% on the genus ID, so I assume boiling removes it. There’s a distant outside chance it was a more local species, L. didymum so maybe that one tastes bit different but that seems unlikely.

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