What is watercress? It depends on who you ask.

Watercress contains significant amounts of iron, calcium and folic acid, in addition to vitamins A and C. Many health benefits are attributed to eating watercress , such as that it acts as a mild stimulant, a source of phytochemicals and antioxidants, a diuretic, an expectorant, and a digestive aid. It may also have cancer-suppressing properties, and is widely believed to help defend against lung cancer.

Nasturtium officinale W.T. Aiton - watercress NAOF

Despite this blog’s name, you may be surprised to learn it isn’t about watercress, at least not exactly. I didn’t anticipate anyone would think it is nor did I plan to write about watercress other than to explain the name. (Which I will come back to later.)

But I’ve discovered that people find this blog by searching for watercress information (something else I didn’t anticipate) and ask questions about watercress. When I started researching watercress, I knew it is worth sharing about.

This post starts a series about watercress; I’ll post every few weeks so please follow and explore the HEART of watercress with me; and I’ll still write about other topics. Why not sign up now?

So, what is watercress?

First,botanists call it Nasturtium officinale, although also known by others-Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum (L.) Hayek, Nasturtium nasturtium-aquaticum, (L.) H. Karst., Sisymbrium nasturtium-aquaticum L., Nasturtium officinale var. siifolium (Rchb.) W.D.J. Koch, .

Robert H. Mohlenbrock, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA NRCS. 1995. Northeast wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species
. Northeast National Technical Center, Chester.

To a horticulturist, watercress is

  • a flowering plant
  • an aquatic, water-loving plant
  • a green perennial plant
  • native to Eurasia and Asia
  • a plant introduced to North and South America, Australia,New Zealand, Europe, and South Africa
  • considered “noxious and invasive” through most of the United States

Nasturtium officinale range map. USDA PLANTS Database.

To the taxonomist, watercress is

SUBKINGDOMVascular plant
DIVISIONFlowering plant
GENUSNasturtium -yellowcress
SPECIESNasturtium officinale

To a chemist, watercress

creates “the myrosinase-glucosinolate bomb.”

The pungent, spicy, and/or peppery taste of members of the Mustard family is due to a defense system known as the glucosinolate-myrosinase system.

When the plants’ tissue is damaged, two compounds within the plant tissues, glucosinolate and myrosinase, break down and produce several bioactive mustard oils . This arrangement is thought to be active against herbivores, fungi, viral and bacterial pathogens, nematodes, and even other plants.

Thus, the distinctive flavors of many members of the Mustard family are due to the types and amounts of hydrolyzed glucosinolate products released.

To a wildlife biologist, watercress

serves as a food source for ducks, muskrats, and deer who eat the leaves of watercress, and the plants serve as shelter for small aquatic life. Yellowed leaves of watercress are consumed by aquatic herbivores such as caddis flies, amphipods, and snails due to the low levels of glucosinolate and myrosinase in the leaf tissues.

Nasturtium nasturtium-aquaticum
Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols.
 Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. Vol. 2: 162. Provided by Kentucky Native Plant Society. Scanned by Omnitek Inc

To a microbiologist, watercress

collected from the wild should be washed carefully prior to eating to avoid accidental ingestion of microscopic parasites, such as the protozoan Giardia, that may be present in untreated water .

To a nutritionist, watercress

contains significant amounts of iron, calcium and folic acid, in addition to vitamins A and C. Many health benefits are attributed to eating watercress , such as that it acts as a mild stimulant, a source of phytochemicals and antioxidants, a diuretic, an expectorant, and a digestive aid. It may also have cancer-suppressing properties, and is widely believed to help defend against lung cancer.

 And to you , watercress is …..?

exploring the HEART of watercress

Thanks for joining me for this overview of the many facets of watercress. In future posts I will explore the nutritional and medicinal uses of watercress, including how to use it as a tasty and healthy food. In the meantime, use the references I’ve listed below to explore watercress until then.

Thanks for joining me, I’m glad you’re here.

Dr. Aletha Cress Oglesby

So, obviously this blog is named water-cress, because it’s part of my name. And because as I briefly mentioned above, watercress has health benefits-and so does this blog! So, it seems to fit. What do you think?

I appreciate the use of photos and graphics available in the public domain from The Plants Database of the United States Department of Agriculture, the USDA.

What is the USDA ?

According the the website, the United States Department of Agriculture focusses on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition, and related issues.

An act of Congress established it in 1962 and President Abraham Lincoln signed it into law, calling it “The People’s Department”, because then half of all Americans lived on farms.

But through our work on food, agriculture, economic development, science, natural resource conservation and a host of issues, USDA still fulfills Lincoln’s vision – touching the lives of every American, every day.

USDA website

President Biden appointed Thomas J. Vilsack Secretary of Agriculture, a job he formerly held under President Obama. Prior to his service as Secretary , Mr. Vilsack served on the board fof Feeding America, a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks that feed more than 46 million people through food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and other community-based agencies.

Author: Aletha Cress Oglesby, M.D.

As a family physician, I explore the HEART of HEALTH in my work, recreation, community, and through writing. My blog, Watercress Words, informs and inspires us to live in health. I believe we can turn our health challenges into healthy opportunities. When we do, we can share the HEART of health with our families, communities, and the world. Come explore and share with me.

6 thoughts on “What is watercress? It depends on who you ask.”

  1. Aletha, this was a really intersting read. I actually found it fascinating that your blog name itself triggered inquiries about the nature of your namesake plant which led you to learn even more about its benefits. I honestly cannot say what watercress means to me because I don’t think I have ever had it! But now that I am alerted to its wonderful health benefits, I will be paying more attention to it going forward and trying to incorporate it into my own diet. Thanks for linking with me!


    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are welcome Shelbee, I appreciate the chance to share. Yes, I also fine it interesting that my site pops up in searches for “watercress”, it had never occurred to me. But since it does, I am happy to learn more about it, since my blog’s purpose is to “explore” the heart of health-including watercress. Look for more fascinating facts about watercress.


  2. Well that was interesting, Aletha. Of course, I’ve heard of watercress, but I’ve never given it a lot of thought. Now I’m thinking I should try it as one of my 60 new things to try before I turn 60. Hmmm…. I also love hearing about how bloggers chose their names. Yours seems a perfect fit. Mine (So What? Now What?) represents life’s journey, particularly transitions, and exploring how we move forward into our best lives.


    1. Thank you Christie. I like bloggers who chose names that reflect themselves or the topic of their blog. I suppose using one’s name, “janedoe.com”, looks more professional, but I don’t find it nearly as interesting as one like yours.


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