Virginia pepperweed, Lepidium virginicum, is one of those plant you'll walk past without giving it a second thought. Perhaps not even a first thought. It's so common and nondescript that it just blends into a weedy background.
Yes, Virginia pepperweed is a weed, albeit a native one. But it's also a tasty and nutritious weed, by all acounts. And Native Americans, including the Cherokee, Menominee and Houma, found it a useful weed as well.
It is native to the eastern United States as far west and as far north as North Dakota. It has also made its way over the Rockies to California and Oregon. The plant is introduced (non-native) in eastern Canada and perhaps Alaska as well. Virginia pepperweed also has been found in Great Britain.
It's a small plant, less than a foot tall. Leaves are deeply toothed and grow from a rosette at the base of the plant. Flowers are tiny, white, with four petals and two stamen typical of mustards, which this plant is. The flowers appear year-round, but more so in winter, at least in Florida, where it is a perennial.
Virginia pepperweed is quite edible. The seeds have a peppery taste, no surprise, and can be used to season food. Unripen seed pods can be eat raw; the leaves are good as greens, cooked or raw. And according to Eat the Weeds, the root can be used with vinegar as a horse radish substitute. It's high in vitamin C and iron.
The Cherokee made a poultice from the root to draw blisters and used another part of the plant to make a poultice to treat croupe. They also gave pepperweed to sick chickens and mixed it with their feed to improve egg production. The Houma of Lousiana used it with whiskey to treat tuberculosis, while the Menominee made a wash to treat poison ivy. In Mexico, it's been used as a cure for diarrhea and dysentery.
It is a host plant for several butterflies, including the checkered white, European cabbage white and great southern white. The major downside of this plant is the last part of its name. It's so weedy, so easily spread, that the Institute for Regional Conservation does not recommend Virginia pepperweed for cultivation at all.
Virginia pepperweed is a member of Brassicaceae, or the mustard family. Other common names include Virginia peppergrass, Peppergrass, Poor man's pepper and bottlebrush peppergrass.