In casual reading, I rarely find mention of watercress in any context, so it’s startling when I do. The most recent popped up in a memoir about Bruce Murray, a New Zealand soldier who had escaped a German POW camp in World War II. After almost encountering a small camp of enemy soldiers, he took cover in the only hiding place he could find-a swamp.
He decided to sit tight, confident the soldiers would move on. They didn’t. His food was soon exhausted, so he was reduced to eating some sort of watercress and a palm-like weed that grew nearby.. which with the swamp water he was forced to drink kept him going.
By the 5th day, half delirious, he walked into the German campsite..they delivered him back to the POW camp.
It took days to recover from the severe gastroenteritis he’d contracted from the swampwritten by Doug Gold
watercress- an aquatic species
In another watercress post, my references came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA, website. In this post I pulled from another government agency, the Department of the Interior, or DOI. The information is much the same, but looks at watercress from a somewhat different angle.
While the agriculture department’s focus is on farming, food, and nutrition, the interior department focuses on the environment , wildlife, and geology.
The U.S. Geological Survey, USGS, considers watercress a “nonindigenous aquatic species” or NAS. It is native to Eurasia and Asia and introduced to North America by cultivation and dispersed by wind, water, and animals. Characteristics include
- fast growing, perennial herb
- aquatic-cold lakes and slow moving streams
- grows “floating or prostrate in mud”
- most abundant in summer and autumn
- flowers March to October
Bruce encountered watercress while being held prisoner in eastern Europe, but watercress has migrated to North America.
Nasturium officinale is
- a perennial herb that grows at the water’s surface along the edges of cold lakes and reservoirs, and along slow-moving streams and rivers
- may be a noxious weed or invasive. In arid regions of western states, it can alter function and block streams.
- an edible green with a peppery flavor that is commonly used in salads, as a garnish, or cooked, and which
- contains significant amounts of iron, calcium and folic acid, in addition to vitamins A and C.
- Many benefits from eating watercress are claimed, 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.
In Bruce’s case, watercress kept him from starving.
But watercress can be toxic, causing illness. Bruce developed a gastroenteritis -abdominal cramping, diarrhea, vomiting-which might have been due to a variety of bacteria, parasites, or viruses contaminating the water. But he may have had a case of
Fascioliasis is a parasitic infection typically caused by Fasciola hepatica, which is also known as “the common liver fluke” or “the sheep liver fluke.”
Fascioliasis is found in all continents except Antarctica, in over 70 countries, especially where there are sheep or cattle. People usually become infected by eating raw watercress or other water plants contaminated with immature parasite larvae.
The young worms move through the intestinal wall, the abdominal cavity, and the liver tissue, into the bile ducts, where they develop into mature adult flukes that produce eggs. The pathology typically is most pronounced in the bile ducts and liver.
Fasciola hepatica egg in an unstained wet mount (400x magnification): F. hepatica eggs are broadly ellipsoidal, operculated, and measure 130–150 μm by 60–90 μm. (CDC Photo: DPDx)
Fasciola infection is both treatable and preventable.No vaccine is available to protect people against Fasciola infection.
In some areas of the world where fascioliasis is found (endemic), special control programs are in place or are planned. Strict control of the growth and sale of watercress and other edible water plants is important.
Individual people can protect themselves by not eating raw watercress and other water plants, especially from Fasciola-endemic grazing areas. As always, travelers to areas with poor sanitation should avoid food and water that might be contaminated (tainted). Vegetables grown in fields that might have been irrigated with polluted water should be thoroughly cooked, as should viscera from potentially infected animals.
The incredible true story of a prisoner of war and a resistance heroine
Food poisoning from watercress and swamp water were not the only hazards Bruce Murray faced as an Allied POW in Nazi controlled Europe; despite brutal treatment at the hands of sadistic guards, inadequate food, and inclement weather , he risked execution if caught assisting local partisan resistance fighters.
One such resistance fighter was a young woman, Josefine Lobnik, who worked as a courier for the underground resistance movement., passing documents and weapons . Despite the threat of torture and death if caught, she was determined to fight to free her country from enemy occupation which had already caused her family to lose everything.
Author Doug Gold writes about his wife’s parents, telling the story of how the war and their mutual determination to fight the horrors of Nazi aggression brought them together against all odds. Unfortunately, neither of them lived to see their story brought to life.
I could not put this book down and I think you will find it equally engageing. It is an almost unbelievable love story and tribute to all who are willing to risk everything for the sake of democracy and decency. I would recommend it even if it did not mention watercress.
Praised as an “unforgettable love story” by Heather Morris, New York Times bestselling author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, this is the real-life, unlikely romance between a resistance fighter and prisoner of war set in World War II Europe.Amazon
exploring the HEART of health
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