How to grow: meadowsweet

How to grow: meadowsweet

12:01AM BST 15 Jun 2007

Mary Keen offers her guidance on growing meadowsweet

Meadowsweet, or Filipendula ulmaria, is a summer British wildflower that foams in ditches and water meadows.

In 1897, a chemist called Felix Hoffman discovered salicylic acid could be produced from a waste product of the plant. He was looking for something to help his father’s rheumatism and, while the benefits of this compound as a pain-relieving drug had been known for thousands of years, this was the first palatable and acceptable form to be found.

At the time, meadowsweet’s official name was Spiraea and the drug that was made from it became known as aspirin. The invented word combined the »a» from acetylic acid and the »spir» from Spiraea.

They do things bigger in America and their form of meadowsweet, known as the ‘Queen of the Prairies’, is a whopper. The pink version, Filipendula rubra, is closely related to our aspirin-producing wildflower and the named form ‘Venusta’ is a noble plant that looks exotic in a midsummer border and carries on looking good throughout July.

It was the sort of thing that used to appear in grand gardens among rhododendrons, or in water gardens along with giant gunnera, but more recently it has become fashionable as a modern European plant. The Dutch designer Piet Oudolf uses it.

Large plants such as ‘Venusta’ and the huge Thalictrum rochebruneanum that never need staking are always popular with new-wave designers. Filipendula’s wrinkled palmate leaves are handsome and the rosy pink plumes provide the vertical accents that are such a help to any planting scheme.

How to grow

Officially filipendulas (except F. hexapetala, the dropwort that grows on chalky downland) like damp fertile soils but ‘Venusta’ seems to flourish in any normal border that has been given a bit of help with mulch or manure. Its plumes will grow to a good 1.8m (6ft). On very fertile, moist soil gardeners might be overblessed with running roots, which can always be given away.

Good companions

Because ‘Venusta’ is so big, it needs to be seen with similar sized plants. If a neat and tidy border is your aim, this plant may be better kept in the shrubbery. A labour-saving scheme might be one that includes a few bushes of Viburnum opulus ‘Compactum’, with Ligustrum quihoui, the late-summer privet with white flowers, and some groups of ‘Venusta’. This would provide four seasons of colour — more if you added bulbs.

For those gardeners who are less than halfway to modern European in style, ‘Venusta’ can look good combined with shrub roses. It gives them a strong background and will enjoy the growing conditions that the roses need.

Because filipendula provides an eyeful of pink, the roses might be better in stronger, or paler, shades. Rosa ‘De Rescht’, the deep crimson old-fashioned rose, would be good. Or ‘Pearl Drift’, the creamy modern shrub. Blue geraniums such as ‘Brookside’, or the long-flowering ‘Rozanne’ have superseded ‘Johnson’s Blue’ and would combine with roses and ‘Venusta’ to make a planting with a bit of an edge.

For a more up-to-the minute look, the giant pale yellow scabious Cephalaria gigantea (which will need staking) or the smaller version, C. tatarica, are good companions for filipendula and would produce seed heads to last through the winter.

Where to buy

Penlan Perennials, Penrhiw-pâl, Llandysul, Ceredigion (01239 851244;

The Beth Chatto Gardens, Elmstead Market, Colchester, Essex (01206 822007;

Reader offer

Filipendula rubra ‘Venusta’ is an attractive spreading plant with finely scented flowers.

Buy one plant supplied in a 9cm pot for just £10.95, or buy three for £22.85.

Poisonous plants like wild parsnip could spoil your summer

July 13, 2013 / 6:45 AM / CBS News

As summer drags on around the country, people are taking to the outdoors to enjoy the nature while the weather is right. But, a summer stroll could turn into a stay in the hospital if you get your hands on harmless-looking poisonous plants.

One Iowa man is warning about the wild parsnip, a poisonous plant that’s looks like wildflowers, dill or Queen Anne’s Lace. When Jack Boyt’s son got in contact with the plant while mowing, his arms were covered in burns, blisters and welts.

«It was bad, worse than anything he’s ever had,» Boyt told CBS News.

Wild parsnip originated in Europe where its roots were eaten, according to Iowa State University. It flowers mostly from May through July.

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The plant contains a substance called psoralen that when touched and subsequently put under sunlight, could cause a reaction known as «phytophotodermatitis.»

That can lead to reddening of the skin, a rash, and blisters, burning and scalding pain.

Dark red or brownish skin discoloration appears where the burn or blisters first formed, and can last for several months.

«At least warn people, but at best, start to get rid of this stuff,» said Boyt.

While poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac are the most common offenders when it comes to poisonous plants, health officials in states like Maryland have recently been warning against the lesser-known giant hogweed. A dangerous, invasive weed, at present it grows in states including New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Washington.

It’s part of the carrot family but can grow over 14 feet long, according to the N.Y. Department of Environmental Conservation. The plant’s sap contains toxins that, like the parsnip, can cause a skin reaction that’s extremely sensitive to light. A blister may form within 48 hours and cause scarring that can last from few months to several years. If the sap gets into your eye, it can cause blindness.

If you come in contact with the plant, get out of the sunlight immediately and wash exposed area with cold water. Apply sunscreen to the affected areas could also prevent further reactions.

The most common problems with poisonous plants, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, arise from contact with the sap oil found in poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. The oil these plants release when their leaves are bruised, called urushiol, could cause an itchy red rash with bumps or blisters. Depending on the rash’s spread, a brush with one of these poisonous plants can be debilitating. Outdoor workers are especially at risk, but since children are outdoors this summer, parents may want to know what the plants look like and ensure their children avoid them.

The CDC adds burning poison ivy, oak or sumac can backfire, and cause lung irritation if inhaled.

Wear long sleeves, pants or boots to prevent contact with poisonous plants, the CDC recommends. Exposed clothing should be washed separately with hot water and detergent following a day out. Barrier skin creams may offer protection if you plan to be outdoors.

If you come in contact with poison ivy, oak or sumac, immediately rinse your skin with rubbing alcohol or dishwashing soap, and use lots of water. Wet compresses can reduce itching or blistering. So too, may oatmeal baths or an antihistamine.

First published on July 13, 2013 / 6:45 AM

© 2013 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Pokeweed, American (Phytolacca americana): The Jekyll and Hyde Plant

If a nice-looking plant could attract scads of birds, make a great mess of greens, treat cancer, AIDS, herpes, bad breath and more, and revolutionize the solar energy industry on the side, wouldn’t you want it in your backyard?

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All of these claims and more have been made for the American Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), an imposing perennial common in disturbed, fallow and edge areas, routinely growing taller than 6-8 feet, with large, oblong leaves and reddish stems at maturity. It’s also known as poke root, poke salad (or poke sallet), poke berry, poke, inkberry, cancer root, American nightshade, pigeon berry and other names. The starring feature of Pokeweed is the flower cluster, which can host flowers, immature green berries and mature, shiny red berries all on the same clump, and there are many clumps per plant, flowering from May on into the fall. It dies back to its very large taproot each winter and re-emerges each spring. It is very insistent about that.

American Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)

With all this going for it, what’s not to like? Well, for one thing, it’s poisonous. For another, it’s persistent and somewhat aggressive and difficult to eradicate. Pokeweed has its passionate defenders, implacable enemies, and some in between, who might wish it wasn’t there, but have no qualms about using it for its good qualities. We have several healthy specimens in our yard, mostly around the edges in the fence or up against the house, and we appreciate it because birds find it irresistible. We never planted it. It showed up on its own, probably from the hard little seeds passing through a bird and being deposited with a handy little packet of fertilizer. It seems to generate a couple more plants each year, and we will soon have to control its spread. We pull it or chop it in places where we don’t want it, but this might be only semi-effective, since it will try to come back from the root each spring. There are chemical treatments, if you’re really desperate, including glyphosate. At least one online gardeners’ forum has had a lively debate on the merits of this plant in gardens and its control.

Pokeweed is one of the signature edible native plants of America, with a strong role in Native-American, African-American and Southern cultures and cuisines. The key is caution. Young leaves and stems in the spring, before any red has crept into them, are harvested by legions of foragers and boiled in at least two changes of water, discarding the water afterwards. Some, in Southern style, saute the greens with bacon drippings and crumbles, alone or mixed with other wild greens. Some also cook the young stems like asparagus, to which their flavor is compared, or cut them into rounds, like okra, coating them with cornmeal and frying them. Some just saute them in butter, with salt and pepper. They are sometimes used in making pickles. Just remember to blanch them in water first! Twice!

Never eat the roots! Never. Too bad, too, because they’re big and juicy.

The toxins in Pokeweed, depending on what source you’re working from, range from deadly to mild. They are usually concentrated in the roots, berries and seeds and include an alkaloid (phytolaccine), a resin (phytolaccatoxin), and a saponin (phytolaccigenin). Their effects can range from embarrassing to very nasty, including diarrhea, vomiting, internal bleeding, rapid heartbeat, convulsions, and much more, up to and including death. Blanching in changes of water eliminates most of the toxins from young leaves and stems, but caution is called for. Also, since the berries are a very tempting looking bright red, you might want to think twice about having this plant in places frequented by young children, because I remember what I was like as a kid.

Flowers, immature and mature berries on one cluster

Tempting looking pokeberries. Look, but don’t eat! Leave them for the birds.

Louisa Jane Reece — Foraging Wild Garlic

See, that’s what the app is perfect for.

Louisa Jane Reece

Foraging Wild Garlic

I am blogging a foraging a wild herb profile every month throughout the year & listing what is available to for the current month in the UK. Please be careful when foraging and refer to a guide book. My favourites are Food for Free by Richard Mabey, River Cottage Handbook no.7 Hedgerow by John Wright & The Thrifty Forager by Alys Fowler. Also be aware not to over forage as you need to leave enough food for the wildlife.

Wild Garlic Allium Ursinum from the liliaceae family

Folk Names : Bear’s Garlic, Bear’s Leek, Broad Leaved Garlic, Buckrams, Devil’s Garlic, Gypsy’s Onions, Moly, Ransoms, Ramp, Ramps, Ramsons, Roman Garlic, Stinkers, Stinking Jenny , Wood Garlic.

Appearance & habitat: Wild Garlic is a tall hairless perennial plant which grows in large numbers in damp, acidic soils in shaded deciduous woods/forests in most parts of Europe, Northern Asia & Northern America. Leaves can be harvested in January (if it is mild).

The leaves are broad, elliptical, shiny, spear-like and can grow up to 25cm long. The stem is long and triangular shaped. The flowers are white, star shaped, in a round umbel with 8-12 segments. The plant gives off a sweetly pungent, strong garlic scent and tastes more like chives, and gentler than conventional garlic. They tend to flower before trees get their leaves in April to June, and this is what gives off the yeasty-garlicy smell that is a giveaway sign of wild garlic. The leaves are very similar to Lilly-of-the-Valley ( Convallaria majalis ), Autumn Crocus ( Colchicum autumnale ) and Wild Arum ( Arum maculatum ) which are extremely poisonous so do take caution, only pick if it smells of garlic when crushed.

Culinary uses: Wild Garlic leaves can be substituted for garlic or spring onions, can be treated like spinach in eaten raw in salads, sandwiches, combined into sauces, butter, mayonnaise, dressings, soups, stews, omelettes, stir-fries, risotto, makes a fantastic pesto (see recipe) and can be boiled as a vegetable. Add it towards the end of cooking to preserve freshness. The leaves can be used as a wrap and compliments tomatoes. The bulb can also be eaten raw but digging up wild plants is not good for wildlife, the bulb is very small so is hardly worth the effort. The flowers can also be eaten as seed pods or flowers.

Nutrition & Benefits: Wild Garlic is rich in iron, vitamin C, vitamin A, manganese, copper, magnesium, traces of Selenium, antioxidants, Aallicin, Adenosine. Traditionally used as a spring tonic, to cleanse the blood and boost the immune system. It is beneficial for rheumatism, reducing high blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels, asthma, emphysema, digestive problems and cleansing the blood. It has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties that protect against free radicals. The juice can be used as a household disinfectant but I wouldn’t advise this because of the odour it gives off. The juice is good for weight loss and applied as a poultice to areas of rheumatic pain, arthritic joints, boils and abscesses. It increases the blood circulation locally.

History & Folklore: Wild Garlic is an indicator of ancient woodland and has been eaten for thousands of years. The first use of wild garlic can be traced to the Mesolithic period in Denmark from a archeoligical find, and to Neolithioc settlement, Thayngen-Weier in Switzerland, where there is a high concentration of pollen within the layer of the settlement.

The vernacular name Ramsons is from Anglo Saxon Old English Hramsa and Ramsey in Essex and Ramdale in Lincolnshire are places which take their name from the plant. Hramsa means Rank derived from the butter and milk of cow which have eaten Ramsons to be bitter or rank. Ramsdale derives from the Norse name Raumsdalr , meaning Valley of the River Rauma in Oppland and Møre og Romsdal in Norway. “Raum the Old”, son of King Nor is the legendary founder of Norway who is linked to the Raumi tribe. It was grown in monastic gardens as food according to an account from the 16 th century.

According to Essex folklore, the allium family is one of the most useful plants in curing illnesses. Aubrey 1847 “Eat Leekes in March and ramsons in May And all the year after physicians may play”

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It is known as Bear’s garlic/leek in Europe as brown bears where partial to digging up and eating the bulbs when they awoke from hibernation.

Recipe for Wild Garlic Pesto

100g Wild Garlic leaves

50g Parmesan cheese

50g toasted pine nuts

2 tablespoons olive oil

Lemon juice squeezed from half a lemon

Wash the leaves thoroughly and roughly chop with scissors. Pulse the pine nuts for a few seconds in a food processor, then add the leaves, olive oil & parmesan. Add lemon juice, salt & pepper to taste, if the pesto needs to be thinned add more oil.

Plants you may expect to find in June;

Borage leaves & flowers, Bellflower flowers, Bittercress, Brooklime, Broom, Common Chickweed, Common Fig, Common Mallow leaves, Common Orache, Common Sorrel, Darwin’s Barberry berries, Elderflower, Fairy-ring Champignon, Fat Hen, Fennel, Garlic Mustard, Garden Orache, Good King Henry, Gooseberry, Hastate Orache, Hawthorn, Hogweed, Lemonbalm, Nettle-leaved Bellflower flowers, Perennial Wall Rocket, Pignut, Marsh Samphire, Rampion, Red Goosefoot, Spearmint, Spear-leaved Orache, Stinging Nettle, Sea Beet, Shaggy Inkcap, Shepard’s Purse, St George’s Mushroom, Three-cornered garlic, Watercress, Watermint, Wild Leek, Wild Rose flowers, Wild Strawberry, Wild Thyme, Wood sorrel,.

6 Amazing Benefits of Chickweed (Stellaria media)

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated — February 07, 2020 вњ“ Evidence Based

If you are looking for a new type of leafy vegetable to toss in your salads, chickweed may be precisely what you have been seeking. With a dense profile of nutrients and a limited number of side effects, this unusual plant can provide quite a few impressive health benefits. However, before adding any new vegetable or herb to your diet, it’s best to understand where it comes from and what it can do!

What is Chickweed?

Chickweed (Stellaria media) is an annual plant found throughout Europe and is scientifically known as Stellaria Media. Over time, it also became naturalized in North America and can be found in recipes and cultural specialties around the world. For those who worry about the safety of chickweed, it is completely safe to consume in moderation. While it is not the most popular leafy addition to a salad, this plant has a pleasant taste and has a slightly different growing season. It is known as a cool-season plant, so depending on where you are and what time of year it is, you may be more likely to find chickweed on the menu. Not only is this an edible plant, but it is also praised for its use in traditional medicine.

While it is not the most popular leafy addition to a salad, this plant has a pleasant taste and has a slightly different growing season. It is known as a cool-season plant, so depending on where you are and what time of year it is, you may be more likely to find chickweed on the menu in cold climates. Not only is this an edible plant, but it is also praised for its use in traditional medicine.

Chickweed is also the common name of various other plant species found in Europe and North America, so it is important to be able to identify this plant. It is quite slender and doesn’t grow particularly tall, with leaves that are oval and opposite. The lower on the plant, the longer the stalks and larger the leaves. The flowers of the plant are small and white. Many people find this herb growing in random places, due to its hardiness, and assume that it is just a weed, while it is actually a potentially beneficial herb!

Chickweed Benefits

The most important chickweed health benefits include its ability to heal the skin, relieve gastrointestinal distress, aid in weight loss efforts, eliminate inflammation, soothe respiratory problems, and speed up healing, among others.

Skin Care

Chickweed is used as a cooling herbal remedy. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

There are various topical applications of this herb that can improve the appearance and health of your skin. Packed with minerals and antioxidants , chickweed can prevent oxidative stress and soothe inflammation from things like eczema, acne, rosacea, psoriasis. It can even improve the appearance of scars and wrinkles!

Prevents Inflammation

Whether consumed or applied externally, chickweed has powerful anti- inflammatory compounds that help it ease discomfort and pain. This is particularly good for people who suffer from chronic inflammatory conditions, such as osteoarthritis or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), among others.

Weight Loss

Many people drink chickweed tea because it has certain diuretic and laxative qualities, which can help people lose water weight. On top of that, however, some studies have found that this herb also suppresses the appetite, further helping to limit calories and aid weight loss efforts.

Alleviates Respiratory Problems

Some of the antioxidants in chickweed, namely the saponins, can act as expectorants in the respiratory system, helping you expel phlegm and mucus. This will relieve inflammation in those tracts, helping you breathe normally, while also eliminating many of the underlying infections of that system.

Speeds up Healing

Applying poultices or compresses of this herb to wounds stimulates circulation and blood flow while protecting against infections, which speeds the healing process.

Aids Digestion

The fiber, minerals, and antioxidants found in this plant will improve your digestion , while also balancing the bacterial environment in your gut and supporting the immune system – more than 50% of which operates within the gastrointestinal system.

Chickweed Uses

Chickweed can be used in many ways, both in culinary and medicinal applications, such as in the form of an oil, compress, tea, poultice or salad vegetable.

Infused Oil

If you infuse oil with chickweed leaves and allow them to soak overnight, you can then use this oil for topical applications on the body, or you can add it to your bath, which can relieve skin conditions and inflammation.

Some people choose to brew a delicious, earthy tea from this herb’s leaves, particularly because this appears to have notable weight loss properties, thanks to the laxative and diuretic abilities of this herb.


If you make a decoction of chickweed leaves, you can soak a compress in the mixture and apply it directly to wounds, inflamed areas, or parts of the skin that require treatment.


You can crush the leaves of the chickweed plant into a light paste and topically apply it to acute injuries and wounds to speed the healing process.

Salad Vegetable

Perhaps the most popular use of this plant, you can add a handful of these leaves to your salad for a unique flavorful bite and a number of excellent internal health benefits.

Chickweed Side Effects

Despite many potential benefits, there are some possible side effects of chickweed that should be considered, including allergic reactions and possible complications in pregnancy.

Contact Dermatitis – Some people are allergic to chickweed, particularly if they are related to other plants in the daisy family. This can result in itching, rashes or redness on the skin, and if consumed, could result in gastrointestinal distress and nausea. Initially, use only a small amount of chickweed and see how your body reacts.

Pregnancy – There are quite a few potent active ingredients in chickweed that have not been adequately studied in terms of pregnancy. So pregnant and breastfeeding women are recommended to not use this natural remedy.

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

Everything You Need to Know About Growing Crisp Cucumbers

Two words: homemade pickles.

One of the joys of the summer garden is slicing up a cucumber straight off the vine and savoring that first crisp, cool bite. Well, it’s a joy when the cucumber tastes the way it should, with that sweet, refreshing flavor that alludes to a clear mountain spring. But sometimes, for no apparent reason, one will taste bitter.

How does that happen, and more importantly, what can you do about it? If you follow these tips to minimize a cucumber’s greatest enemy — stress — you’ll prevent bitterness, as well as most of the other problems that may have marred your cuke harvest in the past, such as pests and diseases.


Plants that are stressed are more likely to become bitter, but the degree of bitterness depends on the severity of the stress. Stress in a plant is most often caused by insufficient and uneven moisture, but temperature extremes and poor nutrition can also play a part. Minimize stress and maximize flavor by following these seven steps.

1. Keep Your Cucumbers Hydrated

Provide plants with plenty of moisture, especially around the time the plant is flowering and fruiting. Any water stress during this period of rapid growth causes the levels of bitter-tasting compounds to rise. Cucumbers are vigorous growers and therefore need between 1 and 2 inches of water per week, depending on the weather and the characteristics of your soil. The key is to keep the soil slightly moist at all times. Water deeply about once or twice a week — and more often if you’re gardening in sandy soil.

2. Add Mulch to Your Cucumber Bed

You can further reduce water stress by mulching plants. Mulch helps to conserve and moderate moisture levels while blocking out weeds. Wait until summer or after the soil has warmed above 70 degrees before applying organic mulches such as straw.

3. Regulate the Temperature

Cucumbers like warm conditions, but growing cool and tasty cukes in the heat can sometimes be a challenge. In fact, high temperatures not only affect fruit quality, but they can also affect fruit set by causing the plant to produce a higher ratio of male flowers.

«Cucumbers are really sensitive to high heat,» says horticulturist Emily Gatch, greenhouse and pathology coordinator with New Mexico-based Seeds of Change. «It can be really hard on plants if temperatures are consistently in the mid-90s.» If you’re growing cucumbers in a hot climate, Gatch recommends providing plants with filtered afternoon shade to help cool things down, either by strategically planting taller crops at the southern end or by adding a shade cloth to block 40 to 50% of the sunlight.

4. Give Them Sunlight and Good Soil

For the best-tasting fruit and optimum yields, grow plants in a sunny spot and in warm, fertile, and well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Raised beds are ideal. Cucumbers require a soil pH between 6 and 7. Wait to sow seeds or set out transplants until after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed to at least 60 degrees. An unexpected frost will kill plants, and the vines grow slowly and become stressed in cool conditions. You can start seeds indoors three to four weeks before your anticipated planting date outdoors. Be careful not to disturb roots when transplanting.

5. Fertilize Your Cucumber Plants

Cucumbers thrive in light, friable soil. Several inches of organic matter worked into the soil prior to planting helps achieve that goal. Plants are heavy feeders, so be sure to feed the soil with rich compost or aged manure. After the vines develop runners and the first flowers appear, follow up with a side dressing of compost, aged manure, or fertilizer.

If the leaves are yellowish, the plants need more nitrogen. Make room. Giving plants the space they require is just one more ticket to a stress-free environment. Grow trellised plants 8 to 12 inches apart. Hills with one or two seedlings should be spaced about 3 feet apart, with rows 4 to 5 feet apart. Space bush varieties 3 feet apart in all directions.

6. Reduce the Weeds

Keep your cucumber patch and the area around it free of weeds. Some types are hosts for bacterial wilt disease, which is spread by cucumber beetles. Intense feeding by these beetles can kill a plant, and they’re especially attracted to stressed plants — all the more reason to keep yours healthy and happy.

7. Use Row Covers

Row covers, hotcaps (or plastic milk cartons with the caps removed), and plastic tunnels are great for getting plants off to an early start. And row covers not only help plants grow faster and flower sooner, they also protect plants from pests. Just be sure to remove any covering once plants start to flower.

Harvesting Your Cucumbers

Depending on the variety, cucumbers are ready for harvest 50 to 70 days after planting. You can expect longer harvests of top-quality cukes on productive plants if you pick the fruits frequently and before they get too large.

The size at which you harvest depends on the variety grown. For optimum taste and texture, American slicers are generally best when harvested at 6 to 8 inches long; Middle Eastern types such as Amira should be picked at 4 to 6 inches; most picklers at 3 to 5 inches; and Asian varieties at 8 to 12 inches.

To harvest, simply grasp the fruit and cut the stem with a pruning shears a quarter-inch above it.

If Your Cucumbers Taste Bitter

Most cucumber plants contain compounds known as cucurbitacins (pronounced kyew-ker-bit-a-sins) that cause fruit to taste bitter. At low levels, you aren’t likely to detect them. But high levels of cucurbitacins produce extremely bitter fruit — so bitter that eating it would cause a riot in your stomach. Cucurbitacin levels increase when a plant is under stress. The concentration of these compounds varies from plant to plant, fruit to fruit, and even within the individual fruit itself. The ability to taste cucurbitacins also varies from person to person.

If the first slice tastes bitter, there’s no need to panic. «Bitterness concentrates in the stem end and skin and doesn’t penetrate the entire fruit,» says horticulturist Tracy K. Lee of W. Atlee Burpee & Co., in Warminster, Pennsylvania. «Simply peel the fruit and cut off the stem end by about an inch or two to reduce the bitterness.»

Our Favorite Varieties

The good news: You can prevent bitterness altogether by selecting select bitter-free types that contain a certain gene that prevents cucurbitacins from forming. These long, very slender, seedless specimens are typically sold shrink-wrapped with plastic to protect their thin skins.

You might also see varieties marked as «burp-less.» What makes a cucumber «burp-less» is open to debate, but it typically contains fewer cucurbitacins. However, without that certain gene they can still produce more if growing conditions become unfavorable.

If you’re used to classic cucumber flavor, a regular slicer may be more to your liking. Try some of our favorite picks in your garden:

Holland Hothouse (64 days from planting to maturity): A Dutch greenhouse type that can be grown outdoors; these bitter-free and burp-less cukes have a cool and sweet taste. For straight fruits, trellis the vines.

Marketmore 97 (55 days): Developed at Cornell University, it’s a truly bitter-free slicer and very disease-resistant to boot.

Tyria (56 days): Another Dutch greenhouse type, producing lightly ribbed, dark green fruits up to 14 inches long. Harvest between 10 and 12 inches long for best flavor.

Amira (55 days): Middle Eastern type; sweeter flavor than most with a crunchy texture; thin-skinned fruits best harvested at 4 to 5 inches.

Cool Breeze (45 days): A French cornichon type (small cucumbers meant for pickling); smooth skins; sweet and crunchy flesh with great flavor; harvested when 4 to 5 inches long; sets fruit without pollination.

Diva (55 days): Smooth, thin, no-peel skin; distinctly tender, crisp, and delicately sweet; best picked at 4 to 5 inches.

Orient Express (64 days): Flavorful, Eastern type with thin-skinned, dark green fruits; vines very tolerant to disease.

Sweet Marketmore (62 days): Disease-resistant vines produce consistently in hot or cool weather; great flavor without the burp.

Tasty Green (65 days): Very tasty with sweet and juicy dark green, slender fruits; can be grown inside or out.

Armenian (60 days): This cucumber relative is also known as snake melon and does well in hot weather. Long, slender light green fruits are spineless and almost always curved, unless grown on a trellis and harvested when 12 inches long. The fruit is somewhat sweet, with a mild, slightly citrusy flavor.

Socrates (52 days): Does well in cooler conditions; can be grown indoors in locations that stay between 50 to 82 degrees; dark green, thin-skinned fruit are sweet, tender, and seedless.

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