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.

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

KINGDOM Plant
SUBKINGDOMVascular plant
SUPERDIVISIONSeed plant
DIVISIONFlowering plant
CLASSDicotyledon
SUBCLASSDilleniindae
ORDERCapparales
FAMILYCruciferae-Mustard
GENUSNasturtium -yellowcress
SPECIESNasturtium officinale
WATERCRESS CLASSIFICATION

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.

I appreciate all of you who are following Watercress Words, and if you aren’t I invite you to join the wonderful people who are. You can meet some of them in the sidebar, where you can click on their image and visit their blogs. Use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me.

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?

Learn more about watercress at these references.
Plant of the Week-Watercress
The watercress glucosinolate-myrosinase system: a feeding deterrent to caddisflies, snails and amphipods

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.

Don’t drink the water- how to avoid water related disease

The most serious risk of water is drowning or near drowning, with 3,300 deaths and another 5,000 hospitalizations annually in the United States.

You’ve probably heard the advice “Don’t drink the water” when you travel to less developed areas of the world. But water can make you sick even without drinking it.

Bacteria and other disease causing organisms can be transmitted by swimming and other water related sports

  • in private and public pools
  • recreational freshwater and oceans
  • hot tubs, splash pads, water parks
  • decorative fountains

Drinking, inhaling, and direct contact with water contaminated with a variety of bugs can cause a wide range of illness, most of which is preventable. Here is an overview of common conditions to watch out for.

Drowning-

The most serious risk of water is drowning or near drowning, with 3,300 deaths and another 5,000 hospitalizations annually in the United States.

Children are especially at risk of drowning. Teaching children to swim as early as practical and supervising them around pools and other bodies of water are critical to prevention.

Drowning Prevention

caution signs at a swimming pool.
Drowning can be prevented by following rules.

Gastrointestinal (stomach and intestines) illness-

Symptoms
  • Nausea,
  • vomiting,
  • diarrhea,
  • cramps,
  • fever
Causes
stream with a kayak
Water in creeks, streams, and rivers is not safe to swallow.

Respiratory (nose, throat, lungs) illness

Symptoms
  • cough,
  • nasal/sinus congestion,
  • ear pain/fullness,fever
Swimmer’s Ear
Causes-
  • pool chemicals
  • Legionella and other bacteria
rapids in a stream

Skin conditions

Symptoms
  • rash,
  • redness,
  • itching,
  • burning
Causes –

Most of these conditions resolve without treatment, or are treatable with appropriate antibiotics.

two people dangling their legs into a pool.
Don’t let water related illness spoil your summer fun. photo from stock photo site- Lightstock.com- affiliate link

Serious but rare

Primary amebic meningoencephalitis is a rare but deadly sinus-related infection caused by Naegleria fowleri in freshwater and soil 

Leptospirosis is another brain infection caused by a group of spirochetes known collectively as leptospires. It also is infrequent.

How to prevent infection

  1. Don’t drink water used for recreation even if treated with chlorine.
  2. Children younger than five years should not use hot tubs.
  3. Persons with diarrhea or recent diarrhea infection should not swim for one week after symptoms have cleared.
  4. Swimmers should shower before using a hot tub or pool.
  5. Don’t swim with open wounds, or use waterproof bandage if you do. .
  6. Learn more and get more tips on staying well at these links from

drawing of a child standing on a diving board at a pool
from the American Academy of Family Physicians

from American Family Physician

Waterborne Illnesses

Safe Surfing

Sea Creature Injuries and Fish Poisoning

And from the Smithsonian , get more detail about

8 diseases to watch out for at the beach 

Exploring the HEART of summer health

I appreciate all of you who are following Watercress Words, and if you aren’t I invite you to join the wonderful people who are. You can meet some of them in the sidebar, where you can click on their image and visit their blogs. Use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me.

before you go, here’s another post you should read