Uses and benefits of Virginian Peppercress – Lepidium virginicum

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Virginian peppercress Quick Facts
Name: Virginian peppercress
Scientific Name: Lepidium virginicum
Origin North America, including most of the United States and Mexico and southern regions of Canada
Shapes Flat pod, round in outline, usually slightly wider than long, widest near the middle, up to about 1/6 inch (4mm) long
Taste Pungent, peppery taste
Health benefits Good for scurvy, diarrhea, dysentery, for renal and liver diseases, abdominal pains, worm infections, rheumatic pain, coughs and croups, diabetes.
Lepidium virginicum, also known as least pepperwort or Virginia pepperweed, is an herbaceous plant belonging to the mustard family (Brassicaceae ⁄ Cruciferae). The plant is native North America, including most of the United States and Mexico and southern regions of Canada, as well as most of Central America. It grows all over Europe, parts of Asia, South America and Australia. It can be found elsewhere as an introduced species. The plant is grown as a weed in most crops and is found in roadsides, landscapes and waste areas. It prefers sunny locales with dry soil. Popular common name of the plants are least pepperwort, Peppergrass, Poor-man’s-pepper, Virginia cress, Virginia pepper cress, Virginia pepperweed, Common Peppergrass, Poor-man’s Pepper-grass, Virginian peppercress, Poor-man’s pepperweed, Poorman pepperweed, Poorman’s pepper, Poorman’s pepperwort, Poor man’s Pepper, Virginia Peppergrass, Wild Pepper-grass, Poorman’s-Pepperwort, Poor-man’s peppergrass and Poor-man’s pepper.

Genus name Lepidium comes from the Greek word lepis, which means scale, refering to the shape of the silicles. Species name Virginicum means “of or from Virginia.” The plant has earned its name for the pepper-like flavor. Interestingly, Pliny the kElder, 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. The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a food and medicine. Note that all parts of the plant have a peppery taste.

Virginian Peppercress Facts

Name Virginian peppercress
Scientific Name Lepidium virginicum
Native North America, including most of the United States and Mexico and southern regions of Canada, as well as most of Central America. It grows all over Europe, parts of Asia, South America and Australia
Common Names Least pepperwort, Peppergrass, Poor-man’s-pepper, Virginia cress, Virginia pepper cress, Virginia pepperweed, Common Peppergrass, Poor-man’s Pepper-grass, Virginian peppercress, Poor-man’s pepperweed, Poorman pepperweed, Poorman’s pepper, Poorman’s pepperwort, Poor man’s Pepper, Virginia Peppergrass, Wild Pepper-grass, Poorman’s-Pepperwort, Poor-man’s peppergrass, Poor-man’s pepper
Name in Other Languages Albanian: Djegës
Australia: Virginia pepper cress
Bahamas: Wild pepper-grass
Brazil: Mastruco, mastruz, menstruz
Canada: Poor-man’s pepper-grass
Catalan: Morritort, Morritort de virgínia
China: Bei mei du xing cai (北美独行菜)
Cook Islands: Naunau
Croatian: Virginska grbica
Cuba: Mastuerzo, sabelección, tostón
Czech: Řeřicha virginská, Žerucha virgínska
Danish: Smalbladet plydsmos, Stor andemadsbregne, Virginsk karse
Dutch: Amerikaanse kruidkers, Virginische kruidkers
Dominican Republic: Mastuerzo
English: Least pepperwort, pepper grass, poorman’s pepperwort, Virginia cress, Virginia pepper grass, Virginia pepperweed, wild peppercress, Virginia pepper cress, Virginian peppercress, Poor-man’s-pepper, Poorman pepperweed, Poorman’s pepperwort, Poor-man’s peppergrass, Poor-man’s pepper, Intermediate pepperweed, Menzies’ pepperweed, Hairy pepperwe
Estonian: Virgiinia kress
Finnish: Virginiankrassi
French: Cresson a savane, cresson sauvage, lépidie de Virginie, passerage de Virginie, cresson-savane
Germany: Virginische kresse, Virginische Kresse, Texas-Kresse, amerikanische Kresse
Haiti: Cresson alénois, cresson danois, cresson de savane, cresson savane
Hungarian: Virginiai zsázsa, amerikai zsázsa
Icelandic: Hæruburst, virginíuperla
Ireland: Least pepperwort
Italian: Lepidio della Virginia
Jamaica: Wild peppergrass
Japan: Mamegunbainazuna, マメグンバイナズナ,  Koubenazuna (コウベナズナ), mame-gumbai-nazuna
Latvian: Virdžīnijas cietķērsa
Lithuanian: Virgininė pipirnė
Lower Sorbian: Wirgińska krjasa
Maori (Cook Islands): Naunau
Mexico: Comida de pajarito, isohuanquil, lentejilla, lentejilla de campo, mexix-quilitl, mixixi, panalillo, put-kan, quelites, rochihuari, xixinda
Netherlands: Virginische kruidkers
Niue: Momili
Norwegian: Virginiakarse
Peru: Cresón, mancuerno
Polish: Passerage de Virginie, Pieprzyca wirgińska
Portuguese: Mastruco, mastruz, mentruz, Mentrusto
Puerto Rico: Cresón, lentejilla, mastuerzo
Russian: Klopovnik virginskiy (клоповник виргинский)
Slovak: Zerucha virginská
Slovene: Virginijska draguša
Spanish: Culantrillo, lentejilla, mancuerno, mastuerzo, mastuerzo Silvestre, Perejil de la Tierra, cresón, escobilla, sabelección
Sweden: Virginiakrassing, Kapmossa, Kvastmossa, Mossbräken, Virginiakrassing, Virginiankrassi, grenkrassing
Tongan: Momili
Turkish: Eltere
UK: Least pepperwort
Upper Sorbian: Wirginska žerchej
USA: Bird-pepper, common peppergrass, peppergrass, poor-man’s pepper, tongue-grass, Virginia cress, Virginia pepper-weed
Venezuela: Escobilla
Welsh: Pupurlys bach
Plant Growth Habit Herbaceous annual or biennial plant
Growing Climates Along railways, in arable fields, prairies, pastures, roadsides, lawns, gardens, waste places, chaparral, coastal sage scrub, disturbed areas, woodland edges, vacant lots, gravelly junkyards, glades, tops of bluffs, rocky openings of dry upland forests
Soil Soil can contain loam, gravel, or clay, and range from sterile to highly fertile
Plant Size Between 10 and 50 centimeters tall
Root Root system consists of a slender, branching taproot
Stem Stems are green or slightly reddish pink, and are covered with fine white hairs that are very short. Stem’s upper part branching
Leaf Cauline leaves are up to 3½” long and ¾” across, and usually oblanceolate or obovate. They are sessile at the base (appearing to have winged petioles), and the larger leaves have a few coarse teeth toward their tips
Flowering season May to October
Flower Each flower has 4 white petals and 4 green sepals, and is less than 1/8 inches (3 mm.) across. A typical raceme will have a few flowers in bloom at the top. The flowers have no noticeable scent
Fruit Shape & Size Seedpods about 1/8 inches (3 mm.) in length at varying stages of maturity. Each flattened seedpod has a round oval shape with a small notch at the tip
Seed Reddish brown, slightly compressed or flattened, ovate-ovoid, narrowly winged distally, about 1.5-2 x 0.8 mm across, smooth minutely reticulate, nicely mucilaginous when soaked, cotyledons accumbent rarely incumbent
Propagation By seed
Taste Pungent, peppery taste
Plant Parts Used Leaves, root
Other Facts
  • It is used by the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico as a leaf vegetable, being planted with maize and harvested first.
  • They used the crushed leaves as a poultice for insect bites and poison ivy.

Plant Description

Virginian peppercress is a herbaceous annual or biennial plant that normally grows between 10 and 50 centimeters tall. The plant is found growing along railways, in arable fields, prairies, pastures, roadsides, lawns, gardens, waste places, chaparral, coastal sage scrub, disturbed areas, woodland edges, vacant lots, gravelly junkyards, glades, tops of bluffs and rocky openings of dry upland forests. Soil should be loam, gravel, or clay, and range from sterile to highly fertile. Root system consists of a slender, branching taproot. Stems are green or slightly reddish pink, and are covered with fine white hairs that are very short. Stem’s upper part is branching.

Leaves

Leaves are in a basal rosette as well as alternate all along the stem. Basal leaves are long stalked, spatula shaped to pinnately lobed and wilt away early. It is about 4-9 cm long and 0.7-1.5 cm across, glabrous, midrib impressed above and prominent beneath, petiole about 0.5-3.5 cm long. Lower stem leaves are irregularly toothed or lobed, 10-50 mm long, up to 3-9 mm across, widest above the middle, tapering to a stalk at the base. Leaves usually become more linear, less toothy, and stalkless as they ascend the stem. Surfaces are minutely hairy. Stem and leaf hairs are cylindric and mostly curved.

Flower

Elongating clusters of stalked flowers appears at the top of the plant and at the tips of branching stems arising from the upper leaf axils, with a densely packed, rounded cluster of open flowers at the tip and fruit forming below. Flowers are tiny, less than 1/8 inch across, with 4 white, paddle-shaped petals alternating with 4 oblong-elliptic sepals that are light green with thin, whitish edging and have a few hairs on the outer surface. Petals are about twice as long as the sepals but occasionally petals are absent altogether. In the center are 2 yellow-tipped stamens and a stubby, white style at the tip of a green ovary. Flower stalks are minutely hairy, the hairs cylindric and mostly curved. Flowering normally takes place between May to October.

Fruit

Fertile flowers are followed by a flat pod, round in outline, usually slightly wider than long, widest near the middle, up to about 1/6 inch (4mm) long with a small notch at the tip. It dries to a papery brown shell and splits down the middle when mature.

Each side of the pod contains a single seed. Inside the seed, the pair of seed leaves (cotyledons) is parallel to each other but perpendicular to the embryo, as viewed in cross-section.

Traditional uses and benefits of Virginian peppercress

  • It is used to treat vitamin C deficiency, pains, diabetes, blisters, colic in babies, as a decongestant, anti-asthmatic, antitussive, and cardio-tonic and as a diuretic.
  • North American Indians use it to treat poison ivy rash and scurvy.
  • It is also used in Mexico for the treatment of diarrhea, dysentery, for renal and liver diseases, abdominal pains and worm infections.
  • Leaves of wild pepper-grass are nutritious and generally detoxifying, they have been used to treat vitamin C deficiency and diabetes, and to expel intestinal worms.
  • The herb is also diuretic and of benefit in easing rheumatic pain.
  • North American Indians used the bruised fresh plant, or a tea made from the leaves to treat poison ivy rash and scurvy.
  • Poultice of the leaves was applied to the chest in the treatment of croup.
  • Seed is anti-asthmatic, antitussive, cardio-tonic and diuretic.
  • It is used in the treatment of coughs and asthma with excessive phlegm, edema, oliguria and liquid accumulation in the thoraco-abdominal cavity.
  • Poultice of the bruised roots has been used to draw out blisters.
  • Root is used to treat excess catarrh within the respiratory tract.
  • Seeds were used to treat coughs and croups.
  • The crushed roots were used to draw wounds and blisters.

Culinary uses

  • Almost all parts of the plants are edible.
  • The leaves are eaten raw or cooked and are a source of vitamin C.
  • The seedpods are eaten raw, used as a condiment or as a pepper substitute.
  • Young leaves can be consumed raw or cooked.
  • The leaves are a rich source of vitamin C and have a hot cress-like flavor.
  • Chopped finely and added to salads, used as a garnish or cooked as greens.
  • Unripe seedpods have a pleasantly pungent flavor and can be eaten raw or used as a condiment in soups and stews.
  • The seed is a pepper substitute.
  • The young leaves can be used as a potherb, sautéed or used raw, such as in salads.
  • The young seedpods can be used as a substitute for black pepper.
  • The flowers can be tossed into a salad and the roots.
  • The 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.

Prevention and Control

Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product’s label.

Prevention

Information about L. virginicum and its effects is available for the public over the internet. Some examples are: information for cattle breeders in Mexico; an illustrated database of the alien plants in South Korea. There is also a species profile in the Global Invasive Species Databas.

Control

L. virginicum is resistant to paraquat. The following herbicides and their effectiveness are reported by Richardson and Zandstra (2009): flumioxazin (96%), flumioxazin with pendimethalin (88%), sulfentrazone with pendimethalin (86%), isoxaben with pendimethalin (68%), oxyluorfen with pendimethalin (68%) and simazine with pendimethalin (53%).

References:

https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/30303

http://www.theplantlist.org/tpl/record/kew-2341702

https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=22955#null

http://www.hear.org/pier/species/lepidium_virginicum.htm

https://npgsweb.ars-grin.gov/gringlobal/taxon/taxonomydetail?id=21770

https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Lepidium+virginicum

http://www.floracatalana.net/lepidium-virginicum-l-subsp-virginicum

https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=LEVI3

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lepidium_virginicum

http://www.theplantlist.org/tpl/record/kew-2341702

https://indiabiodiversity.org/species/show/230207

https://gobotany.nativeplanttrust.org/species/lepidium/virginicum/

http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Lepidium+virginicum

https://gd.eppo.int/taxon/LEPVI

https://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/weeds/plants/cm_peppergrass.htm

https://www.minnesotawildflowers.info/flower/virginia-peppergrass

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