Family Crucifer or cabbage
Synonyms and Common names: Rorippa nasturtium aquaticum, Sisymbrium nasturtium aquaticum, watercress, Brooklime, Brown Cress, Cress, Cresson, Nasturtium, Water Cresses, True Watercress.
Description and Habitat: The plant flowers from May to October, and the seeds ripen from July to October. The flowers are hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and are pollinated by bees. The plant is self-fertile and is noted for attracting wildlife. It has shiny green leaves and small white flowers.
Watercress is found in areas of running water adjacent to springs and riverbanks or on wet soil. The plant thrives in full sunlight and cool water. Although susceptible to frost injury in the autumn and spring, the submerged portion of the plant will survive if the water remains unfrozen. (Although its best in running water, it can also be grown in a bowl or small pond)
If harvesting watercress from the wild it’s important to make sure the stream or water it's growing in is clean and free from disease, there is a possibility that contamination can occur from animals who may have drunk from the water, especially sheep which may be infested with the liver fluke parasite. Cooking the leaves, however, will destroy any parasite and render the plant perfectly safe to eat.
Parts used: Flowers, leaves and stalks.
Collection: Harvesting watercress is carried out once per week under good growing conditions. At harvest, the plant should be cut back to half its size. This allows some leaf area to remain to support the regeneration of the plant for the next harvest. Watercress plants will eventually need to be replaced after several cuts or harvests to maintain good yields, the whole of the plant is collected and used except the root.
A Warning: The poisonous Marshwort or 'Fool's Cress' is often mistaken for Watercress, with which it is sometimes found growing. It may readily be distinguished by its hemlock-like white flowers, and when out of flower by its finely toothed and somewhat pointed leaves, much longer than those of the watercress and of a paler green.
When gathering watercress from the wild it is tempting to gather it from small streams running by the side of a field or moorland. If there have been or are sheep on the land it is possible to pick up a parasite from the wild watercress called ‘Liver fluke’. Liver fluke is caused by a group of parasitic flatworms that migrate to the gut and find the liver where the adult hatches from the worm. It originates sheep and can enter into the human digestive system the consequences being very dangerous. So Beware if you are gathering watercress from the wild, there is many a warning not to gather at all unless you know it’s safe. Best stick to buying from a shop, but please ask where they got it from first. I once grew watercress in a bowl of water which I changed every day after the cress had begun to grow. It’s very easy, and the resulting soup and salads were delicious.
Constituents: A sulpho-nitrogenous oil, iodine iron, phosphates, potash, with other mineral salts, bitter extract and water. Its volatile oil is rich in nitrogen combined with some sulphur. The high content of vitamin C. calcium, folic acid, potassium and beta-carotene.
Actions: Antiscorbutic, Depurative, Diuretic, expectorant, hypoglycaemic, odontaligic, purgative, stimulant, stomachic, treatment for TB
Indications: Very rich in vitamins and minerals, a cleansing herb, its high content of vitamin C makes it a remedy that is particularly valuable for chronic illnesses. A specific in the treatment of TB through its expectorant qualities of control of phlegm and lung problems. The freshly pressed juice has been used internally and externally in the treatment of chest and kidney complaints, chronic irritations and inflammations of the skin. Applied externally, it has a long-standing reputation as an effective hair tonic helping to promote growth. A poultice of the leaves is an effective treatment for healing glandular tumours or lymphatic swellings.
In addition, watercress is one of the best sources of phenyl ethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC). This compound doesn't quite have the household-word status of those other nutrients, but it just might turn out to be the most valuable component of watercress. The PEITC in watercress and other cruciferous vegetables is believed to inhibit the activation of an enzyme that's necessary for cancer to thrive, making it a possible future ingredient in finding a cure for cancer.
Eaten as a salad watercress promotes appetite
The leaves crushed and bruised, and the juice rubbed on the skin removes blemishes and spots.
An infusion of young shoots is good for arthritis, digestive problems and congested lungs.
Watercress either eaten or ingested can be an aid to weight loss
Its also been highly recommended as an aphrodisiac. (see below in additional
Contraindications: Some caution is advised as excessive use of the plant can lead to stomach upsets.
Preparation and dosage: Preparation for ingestion is done by crushing the leaves and using as a juice for either ingesting as it is, although its bitter taste is often made more palatable by adding honey, or for rubbing on the skin or making into a poultice. Flowers can be added to salads.
Additional comments & Folklore: According to folklore watercress rubbed on freckles will diminish them, it also claims it is an aphrodisiac, according to an Egyptian scholar “the seed ground, and put in a foamed egg with a little Ashtincosh (crocodile) salt, and swallowed, shall increase in sperm and add to the erection” although an Egyptian proverb also says "You do not have to eat the Gargir (Watercress) to increase masculinity; it is enough to put a bundle of it under your bed, and its intoxicating scent will reach your nose".
The Latin name 'Nasturtium' is derived from the words nasus tortus (a convulsed nose) on account of its pungency. The ancient Greek general and the Persian King Xerxes ordered their soldiers to eat it to keep them healthy. The Greeks additionally believed that "Eating cress makes one witty".
It is said that eating a bag of watercress is a cure for a hangover, and it's also a great deal as well as a cure for baldness by rubbing the juice onto the scalp.
Folklore tells us that watercress is edible any month that has an 'R' in it, so May-August is considered off-season. Long ago, the odour of burning watercress was thought to drive away snakes and help treat the mentally ill
Watercress makes a delicious and nutritious soup, and very refreshing addition to a salad, making for a healthy and tasty herb