Wild Food Plants
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Cuckoo flower is extremely common and, in the right place, profuse (photo 6). It flowers in April - at the time you may hear the cuckoo - hence its name. The leaves are good to eat, being peppery like watercress but with a hint of the 'bitterness' of Cardamine amara. Problem is - by the time you notice the flowers, you'll scarcely find leaves worth picking. So if you want cuckoo-flower leaves, youi may need to grow your own crop.
Photo 1 above was taken 8th April 2007 in Great Witcombe in the Cotswolds (see details in Walks with the Cats. The flowers range in colour from pure white through to pale lilac and are very beautiful in quantity, as photo 4 shows (taken in Stowe Gardens, 30th April, 2005)
Photographs 2 and 3 show the plant in propagation, you can clearly see the foliage arranged in a rosette. There's an interesting story as to how this came about:
In April 2004 I visited Burley Lawn in the New Forest. In the stream there I picked up a piece of unrooted plant that I could not identify at the time. So I propagated the plant in a tray floating on a tropical aquarium. The plant grew well, throwing out leaves and every time a leaf tip landed back in the water, it grew roots and I had another little plant.
So I removed these new young plants and transplanted them to a tray of wet compost. These two photographs show the result. As soon as the plants started to flower, I could identify them but by that time I had a tray some 14 inches by 24 inches packed with young cuckoo flower plants in leaf. So vegetative propagation for the table should be possible. The middle 2 photos were taken 17th June 2004.
Cuckoo flower is common throughout England but comes into its best in damp places. The fifth photo show Cardamine Pratensis in Cannop woods, Forest of Dean, taken 13th April 2009. Cuckoo flower never seems to give a lot of leaves, but where it is dense it can be reasonably productive.
Photo 6 is actually of a back-garden meadow in Green Bottom (Forest of Dean).
My serendipitous experiment propagating cuckoo flower in an aquarium shows that it may be a useful floating aquarium plant. Certainly it was happy in very shallow soil in a floating container close to the lights, so further investigation could be rewarding.