Peppergrass is a common plant; you might have it growing on your property without knowing it! It has a long history as an edible plant, but growing peppergrass intentionally these days isn’t common in the home garden.
That’s unfortunate because it has a unique, sharp, peppery flavor that can make fantastic dishes. While it’s often treated as a weed because it grows and spreads rapidly, peppergrass deserves a (contained) spot in your garden.
What Is Peppergrass?
Peppergrass, Lepidium virginicum, is an annual plant that grows in a variety of climates, and it can be a biennial in warmer regions. It has an invasive nature, and you can find it in urban areas, such as vacant lots of roadsides. If there is disturbed ground, peppergrass can grow.
Peppergrass, also known as least pepperwort or Virginia pepperweed, was once called poor man’s pepper. It’s part of the mustard family. All parts of the plant are edible, and you can eat the leaves raw or cooked. They can be used as a substitute for arugula or mustard greens.
The plant reaches heights of 3 feet tall, and if there is no other competition, it can become bushy-like. At first, the plant starts as a low growing rosette that eventually bolts upwards, forming long, thin leaves with white flowers and seed pods.
How to Grow Peppergrass
Due to its invasive nature, growing peppergrass in your garden is far from difficult. Even those who have a black thumb can figure out how to grow a few of these plants. Your biggest challenge will likely be trying to keep it under control.
The Right Soil for Peppergrass
One of the great things about peppergrass is that it can grow and thrive in many different types of soil. Even if you have poor-quality soil, chances are you can grow this plant.
For optimal growth, it’s a good idea to add some compost to the soil. Doing so helps give the plants the nutrients they prefer to grow and thrive.
Finding the Right Location for the Plants
Another reason that growing peppergrass is so easy is that it grows in full sunlight to partial shade. That makes it easy to pick a location in your garden.
Remember this plant is tall when it reaches maturity, and it often forms a bush. So, it does need room to grow.
Peppergrass plants reseed themselves and they’ll spread to places that you might not want them to grow. You’ll need to think hard about where you want to grow it since it can take over garden beds. That’s why it might be good to grow it in a container.
When to Plant Peppergrass
This plant is cold-tolerant, so you can start planting it 2-3 weeks before the final frost date in your area. It does prefer cooler temperatures, so it’s best to plant the seeds in the spring as well as the fall.
Don’t try to plant peppergrass in the summer; the temperatures are too hot to support growth. The plant will quickly go to seed.
Planting Peppergrass in Your Garden
Most of the time, you’ll directly sow the seeds in the garden, but you can start the seeds indoors if you prefer.
If you want to start them inside, know that they will germinate fast and you can move them outside soon after. All you need to do is sow the seeds into a high-quality potting mix and water deeply to encourage germination. Keep the pots somewhere that is warm and keep the soil moist.
Once sprouted, you’ll need to harden off the seedlings once they have a set of true leaves. Don’t put them outside without hardening off or you risk killing your plants.
When you direct sow the seeds outside, plant the seeds 8-12 inches apart; they grow fast, so you can thin later. In ideal conditions, peppergrass plants can get bushy, so leave space for them to grow.
Simply cover the seeds with 1/2 inch of dirt and water deeply. These seeds germinate quickly, typically within 4-8 days. You’ll practically be able to watch them grow.
You should plant a new row of peppergrass every week or every other week. It matures quickly, so you can harvest the entire plant and more will be available soon for harvesting if you use succession planting techniques.
Can You Grow Peppergrass in Containers?
Yes! It’s actually preferred that you do so because peppergrass tends to reseed itself easily. It has an invasive nature that is similar to mint plans which can overtake an entire garden bed if you aren’t careful.
Typically, you’ll want to select a pot that is 6-inches wide and 6-inches deep, at minimum, for each plant. If you want to grow more than one plant in the same container, increase the size of your pot.
How to Care for Peppergrass
It’s easier to take care of peppergrass than it is to kill it. Remember that invasive nature! It’s commonly found in fields, pastures, roadsides, railroads, and anywhere there is exposed soil to grow.
However, you do want to know how to properly manage it if you’re growing it in your garden with the intention of eating the plant. Here are some tips to know.
How Much to Water Peppergrass
You don’t need to worry about not watering this plant enough. It’s able to withstand drought conditions. The lower leaves may turn yellow and wither, but the plant itself can withstand drought.
In your garden, you’ll want to water it once or twice a week. It doesn’t need as much water as other plants, but if you want it to grow quickly and provide lots of leaves, give it water.
Remove the Flowers
Remember, peppergrass likes to reseed itself, so if you want to stop that from happening, remove the flowers before they turn to seeds. It helps stop the plant from overtaking your garden.
Common Pests & Diseases
In most cases, you’ll have little to no pest or disease problems. These plants are resistant to most problems.
Still, here is what to watch for:
White Cabbage Moths
White cabbage moths are one of the most common pests in the garden. They can cause serious damage to young plants and established plants alike.
You can try to control the population by using floating row covers to stop the adult moths from laying eggs on your plants. If you find that you have an infestation, you can use Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to treat the plants. Bt is a non-toxic insecticide that can target worms and caterpillars.
All parts of the peppergrass plant are edible including the roots, though most people just harvest the leaves. You can eat the plant raw or cooked.
Peppergrass grows quickly, so you should harvest the entire plant when it’s 12 inches tall. If you use succession planting techniques, you’ll have mature leaves to pluck all the time.
The young seedpods can be used as a substitute for black pepper. The leaves can be eaten fresh in salads or sauteed. You can toss the flowers into a salad, along with the roots.
Another way that you can use the roots is to make substitute horseradish. Collect the roots and make sure you wash them well. Crush them and add some salt and vinegar. It’s a close substitute because of the strong, peppery flavor.
Growing peppergrass isn’t common in home gardens – at least not on purpose – but it deserves a comeback. All parts of this plant are edible, and it can withstand almost any condition. It’s an excellent choice for new gardeners.