March 9, 2018
This spicy woodland inhabitant ranges from Georgia north to Ontario and from the Atlantic to Wisconsin. It is generally found in moist woodlands and blooms from April to May here in WNC. It is a member of the brassica (mustard) family,which we can see by a four petal flower which blooms in a cluster on a single stalk above a single pair of toothed stem leaves each divided into three broad leaflets whose undersides often boast a deep purple hue. The tuberous roots are crunchy and peppery much like horseradish. I recommend harvesting the Broadleaf species pictured above rather than the Cutleaf Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata) which tends to be more rare in this area.
This native plant was used by First Nations people extensively. The Algonquin used it as a relish when mixed with vinegar, savoring its horseradish-like flavor. It was used by many other Nations to treat stomach ailments, headaches and even venereal disease. The Cherokee also used it in our region as a condiment, food, and medicine. Some say the roots lose some of their sharp taste when laid out on the counter for a few days to “sweeten” up a bit. However, when made into dips and condiments, if you treat them like horseradish it should be palatable. See what you like! The leaves are also edible and can be eaten raw or cooked in soups, salads, stews or stir fry.
Enjoy and as always, never eat a plant you are not 100% positive of, and always learn from a real live expert!
Black, Meredith Jean 1980 Algonquin Ethnobotany: An Interpretation of Aboriginal Adaptation in South Western Quebec. Ottawa. National Museums of Canada. Mercury Series Number 65 (p. 86).
Hamel, Paul B. and Mary U. Chiltoskey 1975 Cherokee Plants and Their Uses — A 400 Year History. Sylva, N.C. Herald Publishing Co. (p. 59).