A spell of uncharacteristically pleasant English weather got me out into the garden over the past week, where I found it overrun by these round-leaved weeds. In the pauses between the backbreaking work of removing them from the flowerbeds, I found myself wondering what they are and how they’ve managed to infest our garden so efficiently.
And there the wondering might have stopped, but in the age of apps for literally everything, I was able to use one of those wildlife identification apps to discover that this is a ‘hairy bittercress’ – and that it’s also edible.
This is probably a good point at which to point out that you probably shouldn’t trust an app on your phone to know what’s edible and what’s poisonous. But anyway, after some independent verification, I had a nibble. If you’re wondering, it’s a bit like cress crossed with rocket.
This is where the interesting chemistry comes in, because the bitterness that evokes rocket is actually due to the same family of compounds: glucosinolates. These break down when you chew the leaves to form bitter tasting isothiocyanate compounds.
So there you have it, chemistry is everywhere, even in mundane garden tasks!