Forage Friday #117 Virginia Pepperweed

Hello Friends! Tonight’s Feature Image was taken specifically for Forage Friday. All photos found on my website are my original work unless otherwise specified and are available for purchase by clicking the thumbnail and reaching out to me on the contact page.

Please remember that Forage Friday is presented as trivia and not to be mistaken for medical advice.  Tonight’s Post includes an additional warning!  ⚠️ Pepperweeds are dynamic accumulators of heavy metals.  As such, you must know the history of the land that you forage them from. Industrial landscapes and the landscape around mines are likely to be contaminated and so this plant will not only be contaminated itself but also concentrate things like mercury. If you’re in an area where there’s a mercury warning for the fish then presume that the Pepperweed is also contaminated.

Virginia Pepperweed is native to my Appalachian Mountains and was cherished by the indigenous people. When European settlers arrived this humble little weed was a Godsend. The pepper that we use on our tables is native to Southern Asia and in the early days was both expensive and hard to acquire. As a side note here, Peppercorn was more likely to be found among a pirate’s treasures than gold. So for the settlers having a good substitute represented a bit of security in a unstable world. In a situation where one has to forage the main complaint is how dull and boring many of our wild edibles can be. Having access to spices can make a difference in the quality of life. The flavor of Pepperweed is often compared to radishes with the seeds being more peppery than pods and leaves. The leaves are quite small but loaded with vitamin C. They do have a “hot flavor” and the plants in general provide a store of minerals. As noted in the warning above Pepperweed is adapt at accumulating minerals and it’s my understanding that a lot of the vitamins we gain from other wild foods work best in the presence of minerals. So it makes sense to prepare the two together. One interesting suggestion that I came across was to blend Pepperweed into a pesto to add to things like Nettle and violet leaves or dandelion leaves for a well rounded dish.

It looks like a deer has been sampling this Pepperweed. Antlers are one of fastest growing tissues known and requires plenty of minerals for a good strong set.

Almost every edible plant has a tradition of medicinal values and Pepperweed is no exception. In spite of the warnings about how it accumulates toxins from industrial landscapes in a pre industrial world Pepperweed was said to help detoxify the body. It was also used to expell intestinal worms and of course the high vitamin C was able to treat scurvy. Pepperweed is in the mustard family and like a lot of mustards was thought to relieve arthritis pain. And being a hot flavored plant it has been used to help relieve congestion. A poultice of the roots was used to draw out blisters and to treat bronchitis while a poultice of the leaves was used for the croup. I suspect that this has to do with increasing blood vessel dilation and inducing a coughs but that’s just a layman’s guess.

Before closing I do want to mention that because of Pepperweed’s ability to accumulate toxins from contaminated soil that from a permaculture perspective it’s a good plant to use for soil remediation. This is something that would need to be monitored with testing of course but here in Appalachia we do have a lot of mines and even though we’ve made great strides in preventing contaminated runoff from poisoning the ground accidents happen and there’s still a lot of older sites that operated before such things were considered. So if you’re looking at spot where you can’t have a garden because of toxic runoff you might consider bringing in the Pepperweed to remove the heavy metals and make the land productive again.

That’s it for tonight’s Forage Friday. Good night friends and be blessed throughout your days.

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