Growing garden cress: tips on planting, care & varieties
Growing garden cress is surprisingly easy. Along with its low maintenance nature, the spicy aroma and plentiful health benefits make cress definitely worth growing.
Garden cress (Lepidium sativum) is probably the perfect plant to crown your entry into gardening with success. This plant, which belongs to the cruciferous family (Brasicaceae), is so easy to cultivate that it can be grown almost anywhere and at any time. The herb, which probably originated in Asia, is popular because of its mildly pungent spiciness. Charlemagne, the King of Franks during the early Middle Ages, gave orders to have cress cultivated and he was not the only person in history to enjoy cress. Cress seeds have been found in tombs of ancient Egypt, too.
Despite the amazingly undemanding nature of the cress, a few small things need to be taken into account to successfully complete the cultivation of this herb up until harvest.
How to grow cress
The easiest way to start growing cress is to sow some seeds of this annual herb. If the garden cress is to be sown outdoors, a sunny location is beneficial but not essential. Here again, cress demonstrates its low maintenance nature as it can easily grow in shade too. In shaded areas, it only takes a few days longer to harvest.
You can sow cress whenever it suits you. Whether sowing in rows or close together, the cress does not care at all. However, sowing should not take place before the Ice Saints in mid-May, as the dainty seedlings are very sensitive to frost. In addition, the seeds need at least 15 °C to germinate. The following also applies to garden cress when sowing: the seeds must be kept permanently moist. In addition, the seeds need light to germinate, so make sure they are not completely buried beneath the substrate. Usually, cress germinates after just a couple of days. This means that it can be sown outdoors in autumn and still be brought to harvest maturity.
While outdoor cultivation of garden cress is only possible during frost-free seasons, the spicy herb can be cultivated on the windowsill in a bright location all year round. Without a doubt, everybody can grow cress (no gardening skills required!) because success is guaranteed, no matter where or in what you sow cress. Cress is known to germinate in almost any substrate. Whether cotton wool, damp kitchen towel or normal garden soil – at room temperature, garden cress germinates in a matter of days. After four days of growing it is ready to be harvested and eaten. This is why it is best to grow cress in blocks in quick succession.
Cultivation of cress in cotton wool or other germ-free substrates is also an option. As simple as its cultivation is, garden cress is susceptible to infestation with germs and fungi. Soil substrates are unfortunately prone to a variety of different pests, that can negatively impact your crops. Should you nevertheless decide to grow garden cress in soil, the substrate should be sterilised in the oven before sowing. This step makes sure to decimate any possible pest population in the soil.
Fertilising and watering garden cress
Due to the low maintenance nature of cress, its cultivation is extremely beginner-friendly. Keep in mind, that during germination the seed must be kept moist. The young plants also enjoy an even supply of water. Fertilising is not necessary with garden cress, as it does not need any additional nutrients. Although the cruciferous plant has nothing against well-fertilised soil or substrates, this herb is also satisfied with nutrient-poor soil. The reduced supply of nutrients does not reduce the likelihood of an abundant harvest. Accordingly, no additional fertilisation is required during the short cultivation period of the cress. However, if you want to create the best growing conditions, use a high-quality substrate.
Besides the garden cress (Lepidium sativum) there are two other well-known types of cress: the watercress (Nasturtium officinale) and the nasturtium (Tropaeolum). The leaves of all three cress species are edible. Compared to nasturtium with its countless varieties with a vast range of colourful flowers, the garden cress does not show a great variety. Therefore, if you are looking for an edible plant that will also have a greater decorative value, we recommend growing nasturtiums. This does not take away from the many positive qualities of garden cress as its spicy aroma and health benefits are not to be underestimated.
Harvesting and storing garden cress
At a favourable temperature of around 20 °C, the garden cress is ready for harvesting after only four days. No other plant has a journey from seed to plate as rapid as garden cress. The small plants can be cut off about one centimetre above the substrate surface with scissors. Harvest only as much as needed to cover the current demand because cress is best eaten when fresh. It is important to note, that cress should only be used for consumption before it blooms. As cress loses its aroma within a very short time after cutting, direct use is advisable. Do not wash cress after harvesting. This will cause the plant to lose its crisp freshness and become a little wilted and less crunchy.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to preserve the spicy herb in any form. If you still want to have cress permanently available, there is no way around sowing several times at short intervals. If a part of the cress is not harvested in time before flowering, it can be used for seed production.
Garden cress: benefits and use
In our opinion, the best recipe involving cress is to have some fresh bread with a delicious spread garnished with some freshly harvested garden cress. This is a classic, tasty and healthy way to eat garden cress. Thanks to the mustard glycosides contained, the cress acquires its characteristic peppery note, which works very well in many dishes. For example, the crunchy peppery cress compliments fresh salads well. Not to mention: cress refines dishes in a decorative way, too.
There is more to garden cress than just taste and appearance. Some claim, that the so-called cress test can be a simple and quick indicator for measuring air pollution with harmful substances. This test compares the growth of cress seedlings exposed to a polluted environment with that of unpolluted seedlings. This allows a rough conclusion to be drawn about the emissions contained in the air.
Surprisingly, garden cress also has a high content of vitamin C, iron, calcium and folic acid. If the garden cress is cultivated on the windowsill, it can therefore be a valuable and energising supplement, especially in winter. Fresh and nutritious fruit and vegetables are often in short supply at this time of year. Another positive effect of regular consumption of garden cress: broken bones are said to heal faster. This healing power of the herb has even been confirmed by some studies.