Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)
Watercress is a lush, leafy, semi-aquatic perennial plant which is most commonly used as a salad herb.
Watercress leaves have a fresh, peppery, rich and slightly bitter taste. The leaves can be eaten both fresh and dried.
Watercress has little to no smell however when the leaves are crushed it has a pungent, sharp-green aroma.
Watercress is a common ingredient in French, German, Italian and Chinese cuisines and is most commonly used in salads and soups that are made with stock, cream or yoghurt. Watercress loves chicken, cucumber, fish, onion, oranges, potatoes and salmon and marries perfectly with fennel, ginger, parsley, sorrel and other salad herbs.
How to Grow
Watercress grows best near water (hence it’s name), either near springs or streams, however it can also grow in loose, well-watered soil in the sun or shade. Propagation can be by seed, root division or cuttings and its best to grow in tubs or large pots as it has a tendency to take over. Watercress is a thirsty plant so water regularly and harvest often to encourage new growth.
The ancient Persians, Greeks and Romans used watercress in salads and a Persian tradition was to feed watercress to children to increase their strength and stature. There was even an ancient belief that it would repel snakes and was used as scorpion anti-venom. The plant is native to Europe and Asia before it was introduced into North America, West Indies and South America.
Watercress leaves are high in vitamin A and C and are rich in minerals including iron, calcium and folic acid. Throughout history, its therapeutic uses have included coughs, stress, eczema, improved memory and to increase the milk supply of nursing mothers.
A poultice of watercress is said to help for swollen feet, sprained ankles and gout and the juice of the leaves is said to help clear the skin of pimples and blemishes
Facts about Watercress
Alresford is considered England’s watercress capital as it holds a “Watercress Festival” which attracts 15,000 visitors each year. Oviedo, Florida is considered the “watercress capital of the world”.
What other plants are related to watercress?
Other members of the cress family include land cress, garden cress and Indian cress commonly known as Nasturtiums. Nasturtium flowers and leaves can be used in salads or in fruit punch.