I’ve been seeing watercress more often. Both at the farmer’s market and at the grocery store I frequent. I’d never eaten watercress before and didn’t know much about it. But I decided to buy some anyway.
I had an idea that it was partnered with cucumber in tiny sandwiches served at tea in quaint English villages. But watercress is much more than that…and it’s no shrinking violet either. Watercress has a peppery taste with lots of zing to it. So what exactly is it?
Watercress is an aquatic plant found near springs and slow-moving streams. It bears small, round, slightly scalloped leaves. In the summer it produces tiny white flowers that become small pods with two rows of edible seeds. Watercress has been cultivated in Europe, Central Asia and the Americas for thousands of years and used as food and medicine.
Watercress enjoys a long and interesting history. Up until the Renaissance, this spunky green was used as a breath freshener and palate cleanser, as well as for medicinal purposes. The Greeks were no strangers to the health benefits of watercress, either. When Hippocrates founded the first hospital on the Island of Kos around 400 BC, he grew watercress and used it to treat blood disorders.
It is reported that Nicholas Messier first grew watercress in Germany, in the middle of the 16th century. English cultivation started in early 1880’s when watercress became popular as a salad ingredient.
The 17th-century herbalist John Gerard recommended watercress as a remedy for scurvy. And, according to the book James Cook and the Conquest of Scurvy 1, Captain James Cook was able to circumnavigate the globe three times, due in part to his use of watercress.
Watercress packs a nutritional punch. A 100-gram serving is rich in vitamin K and contains significant amounts of vitamins A, C and B6, calcium and manganese.
Not only that watercress is versatile. It can be used as a salad green with romaine lettuce or fresh spinach, steamed and eaten as a vegetable and added to soups. Clearly, watercress is much more than a sandwich partner to cucumber.
Photo by silviarita.