Cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata) is an ephemeral plant that is one of the first to bloom in the spring. In our area of the Ozarks, it blooms from March to early May. Ephemeral means that a plant has a short life cycle. This one is a spring ephemeral, meaning it blooms in the spring before the leaf canopy comes on the trees. The easiest time to find and identify this plant is in early spring when cutleaf toothwort is blooming.
The first video below shows gathering the rhizomes from cutleaf toothwort to create a horseradish substitute for a condiment, including an experiment we did for pickling vs. fermentation of the root. Fermentation is said to give a sweeter result than pickling. The second video shows making a creamy dip using the roots.
As always, we advise you that this article is for informational purposes only. We do not recommend consuming any wild edible unless you are 100% sure of the identification and uses. Even when 100% certain of the identification never consume large quantities of a wild edible until you know how your body will react. Test with a small quantity even if you are sure a plant is safe to consume. Some people may react negatively to a wild edible even when they have no known food or other allergies. The old adage “when in doubt, spit it out” is especially true when attempting to use wild edibles.
You will find cutleaf toothwort in hardwood forests with rich soil, rocky bluffs and banks, wooded bottomlands, and limestone outcroppings. Since they are only blooming for a few weeks in the spring, if you have bad weather for a few weeks you might miss the entire season. But if you can find them, it is worth the effort to harvest some of them.
The plants are spread by rhizomes in the soil. The rhizomes are located in a shallow layer below the blooming plants. These rhizomes are what we used to make the dip in the video above. They have a distinct peppery flavor similar to horseradish. This is probably where the common name of “pepper root” comes from. You can also process the rhizomes by chopping them finely and adding vinegar to create a mild horseradish substitute.
Cutleaf Toothwort Identification
This is a diminutive plant that only grows from 6-18 inches tall. The leaves arise in a whorl from the stems. The leaves may have 3 or more lobes that are toothed and may account for the common name of cutleaf. The rhizomes have a tooth-like appearance which may account for the common name of toothwort. The white flowers can have a purple or pinkish coloring near the bases of the petals.
Cutleaf Toothwort Edible Uses
The leaves and flowers may be consumed raw and can be added to salads or used as a garnish. Cutleaf toothwort is in the same plant family as mustard greens, turnips, and broccoli. The leaves have a mild peppery taste when chewed, and they add a dash of flavor when added to salads as a green.
You can cut the leaves and carry them home in a bag. Soak them in cold water for a few minutes when you return home if they have wilted, and they will become good as new again. You can store them in the refrigerator for up to a week, but they are better consumed within a few days.
As stated earlier, the underground rhizomes may be dug up and used as a horseradish substitute when cleaned and processed. The rhizomes are tiny, as you can see in the video above. Once the rhizomes are dug up the plants will die. When digging any rhizomes be sure and harvest responsibly. Only take what you need and never take all of the plants you find, or there will be none for you to harvest in future years.
Cutleaf toothwort is a useful early spring edible plant that can help you when you have a desire for fresh greens in the early spring. The leaves are great when combined with fresh, young dandelion leaves in a salad. If you have some dandelion flowers you can also add them for some extra color, nutrition, and flavor to your salad. The roots can be used as a horseradish substitute and have a milder taste than horseradish.
If you would like to learn more about using dandelion as a wild edible you can visit this article.