As soon as the weather turns good I start walking the road along my property–a one and a half mile round trip. During these treks I like to keep track of the wildflowers along the way. After ten years of regular walks, I still find new flowers. This week I noticed Cardamine diphylla, also known as Dentaria diphylla, or by the common names of toothwort, pepperroot or crinkleroot. That’s a lot of naming, but the four petaled flower does look a little like baby teeth, doesn’t it? Or perhaps for the tooth-edged leaves?

Actually, I discovered the roots were chewed to relieve toothache, and teas made out of the roots were supposed to help flu and colds, therefore, toothwort. Pepperwort because the rhizome roots are sharp, pungent or peppery in taste. Herbalists are still promoting the plant’s medicinal value on the web. Others suggest it as a good addition to salads, or sauces. I’m guessing the European colonists learned about toothwort from Native Americans who seemed to also have used it as a food crop. Since Cardamine diphylla is from the mustard family, known for its pungency as wells as its four-petaled flowers, that might be very true. Edible Wild Plants has more information about toothwort and even for its inclusion in horseradish sauce.

Whether for a medicinal or culinary use, many roots must need to be harvested to whip up even a little quantity for any recipe. The plant is small, only growing about eight inches. You might guess from my comments that I didn’t dig the plant up to taste. I’d rather see them grow along my roadside and just purchase pepper or horseradish, or whatever I need from the grocery store. I suppose it is called crinkleroot because the roots are crinkled?

These plants grow in the early spring in damp, wooded areas before the trees leaf out. They bloom and spread seeds, and then disappear for the rest of the summer. The genus name Dentaria, which refers to teeth, is often included in the Cardamine genus; the diphylla means two leaves. Although their broad leaves looks like more because they are three-lobed, the flower stalk bears only two leaves.

There is another native toothwort, which I have not discovered along my road, the cutleaf toothwort, Dentaria lacinata, which blooms after the trees have leafed out. Its leaves are deeply cut so look much thinner. If you live east of the Mississippi River, you might see either of these wildflowers on walks in your woodlands.

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