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Scientific classification

About 25 species, see text

Scurvy-grass (Cochlearia species; a.k.a. Scurvy grass, Scurvygrass) is a genus of about 25 species of annual and perennial herbs in the cabbage family Brassicaceae. They are widely distributed in temperate and arctic areas of the northern hemisphere, most commonly found in coastal regions, on cliff-tops and salt marshes where their high tolerance of salt enables them to avoid competition from larger, but less salt-tolerant plants; they also occur in alpine habitats in mountains and tundra.

They form low, rounded or creeping plants, typically 5-20 cm tall. The leaves are smoothly rounded, roughly spoon-shaped (the scientific name Cochlearia derives from Latin cochlea, a spoon), or in some species, lobed; typically 1-5 cm long, and with a fleshy texture. The flowers are white with four petals and are borne in short racemes.



About 25 species are usually accepted, though some of the selected species listed below are treated as subspecies of C. officinalis by some botanists.

  • Arctic Scurvy-grass Cochlearia fenestrata
  • Bayern Scurvy-grass Cochlearia bavarica
  • Common Scurvy-grass Cochlearia officinalis
  • Early or Danish Scurvy-grass Cochlearia danica
  • East Asian Scurvy-grass Cochlearia oblongifolia
  • English Scurvy-grass Cochlearia anglica
  • Estuarine Scurvy-grass Cochlearia aestuaria
  • Greenland Scurvy-grass Cochlearia groenlandica
  • Pyrenean Scurvy-grass Cochlearia pyrenaica
  • Roundfruit Scurvy-grass Cochlearia cyclocarpa
  • Scottish Scurvy-grass Cochlearia scotica
  • Sessile-leaved or Alaskan Scurvy-grass Cochlearia sessilifolia
  • Three-fingered Scurvy-grass Cochlearia tridactylites

Two species formerly included in the genus Cochlearia are now usually treated in separate genera:

  • Horseradish Armoracia rusticana (previously Cochlearia armoracia)
  • Wasabi Wasabia japonica (previously Cochlearia wasabi)


Scurvy-grass was extensively eaten in the past by sailors suffering from scurvy after returning from long voyages, as the leaves are rich in vitamin C, which cures this deficiency disease resulting from a lack of fresh vegetables in the diet. The leaves, which have a strongly peppery taste similar to the related horseradish and watercress, are also sometimes used in salads.

Scurvy-grass and roads

The advent of modern fast roads treated with salt in winter for ice clearance has resulted in the colonisation by scurvy-grass of many inland areas where it formerly did not occur. The scurvy-grass seeds become trapped on car wheels, transported often for a considerable distance, and then washed off, to grow in the salt-rich soil at the side of the road where other plants cannot survive. For the rapid colonisation of a British inland county between 1989-2002, see Cochlearia danica in Worcestershire (

See also


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