DISCLAIMER: Do not eat or otherwise use any plants without doing your own research. I will not be liable if you misidentify a plant or follow misinformation I give (although if I give misinformation, please let me know!).
Chorispora tenella in its preferred habitat: waste ground
When I was growing up, there were these pretty purple flowers all over my back yard. I asked my mom what they were, and her answer was: “They’re a tenacious weed and a pain in my behind.” I know what she would have said if I weren’t 6 at the time. In any case, it turned out that the weed she had been pulling for years was an absolutely delicious edible food! How lucky I was to find that one out.
If you ask anyone what they think of this plant, whether or not they even know the name, they’ll probably tell you it smells terrible. While it does have an off smell which is the trademark of this plant. I, honestly, find it pleasing to smell. Either way, the smell is distinct and can definitely help a beginner forager identify this plant.
Notice the alternate, spirally arranged leaves and fuzzy look
I enjoy this plant as is raw – though you may not enjoy the texture of the trichomes (small hairs) – or mixed into other foods. Its taste can range from biting to incredibly mild, but it has a distinct flavor which is hard to compare to anything else. It does well in stir fries and omelettes and is surprisingly tasty mixed into dishes such as curries. If the flavor is too strong for you, boiling it for a small while will certainly take care of that (as it will with most mustards).
So let’s go over the details.
Flowers are like any other mustard
It’s a small, sprawling herb which forms in clumps or large swaths of ground. It rarely grows over 10cm tall. The leaves, generally growing no longer than 4cm, are arranged alternately and spirally along the stem. The flowers are small (up to 1cm) and purple or blue, with 4 petals and 6 stamens typical of the Brassicaceae (mustard) family. The smell is unlike any other plant, so break open a leaf if you need to confirm its identification.
It arrives in late winter to early spring, and can stay until winter arrives again. It prefers any disturbed or waste ground which are generally not ideal areas for foraging. Hedgerows, old lots, yards, or (best for wild foraging) margin areas of habitats. It can tolerate shade or shine and can even grow in acidic or basic clay soils: it’s a hardy plant.
You can eat the leaves raw (trichomes can be irritating) or cooked. Their flavor is distinct. The seedpods and flowers are also edible raw or cooked. I haven’t tried the roots, but as with practically any mustard, they are likely edible as well (and I have read that they are).
This plant can be eaten at any stage and any time of year.