April 29, 2015
Watercress is a rapidly growing aquatic [or semi-aquatic] leaf vegetable. Native to Europe and Asia it is one of the oldest known leaf vegetable consumed by humans. It is closely related to garden cress, mustard, radish, arugula and wasabi – so the pungent, peppery flavor should not come as a surprise.
In the 19th century bunches of cress were often rolled into a cone and eaten as an on-the-go breakfast sandwich – giving it the nickname ‘poor man’s bread’. The Greek general Xenophon made his solders eat it to increase their vigor before going into battle and Roman emperors said it enabled them to make ‘bold decisions’.
Watercress is one of the first edible leaf vegetables in spring. They usually grow near streams [chalk streams] or springs. The plant is easily recognizable with their small, round, slightly scalloped leaves. Once small, white and green flowers appear the foliage becomes bitter and less appealing to eat. The plants can grow up to 150 centimeters but are most delicious as sprouts [10-20 cm]
SHOPPING + STORAGE
Go for crisp, dark green leaves with no sign of yellowing, wilting or beetle infestation. Fresh cress leaves should impart tangy peppery aroma when squeezed between thumb and index fingers.
Cress leaves are unsuitable for distribution in dried form and can only be stored fresh for a short period. Even when wrapped airtight with a little water inside and stored in the fridge the watercress will perish after 1-2 days. It will keep a little longer if you fully submerge cress in water [and keep it in the fridge].
Before using watercress it should be washed thoroughly and soaked for half an hour in cool salt water [to revive sunken leaves and to get rid of parasite eggs]. Both leaves and stems are edible – just remove the roots.
Watercress is a very versatile vegetable. It can be used as a salad green or in sandwiches like rocket. Combine with potatoes in a soup for a subtle, peppery flavor. Use in tarts and omelettes or steamed as a side dish. Nowadays you sometimes see it used in vegetable drinks.
Around 400 BC, Hippocrates located the first hospital on the island of Kos close to a stream to ensure that fresh watercress would be available for treating patients. Because of the relatively high Vitamin C content English military used as a remedy for scurvy.
Modern science has identified more than 15 essential vitamins and minerals contained in this one herb – more iron than spinach, more calcium than milk, and more vitamin C than oranges. Additionally watercress contains significant amounts of iodine, manganese and folic acid. As well as Vitamin A, B6, and K. The cress claims many benefits like being a stimulant, a diuretic, a digestive aid and even to have cancer suppressing properties.
Nutritional value per 100g [% of Daily Value]