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.

Thanks for following this blog. If you’re visiting, I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me. I also want you to find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest , Instagram, and LinkedIn .

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.

How to use watercress and other greens-and why you should

Greens are a superfood because they are so nutritious, are inexpensive to grow, and come in many varieties with a broad diversity of flavors and textures.

Despite the name, this blog isn’t about watercress, but is like watercress-unique, peppery, bright and nutritious. And as a physician blogger, I want to know more about the health benefits (and possible dangers) from watercress.

So while searching for information about watercress, I found an intriguing book,

the book of greens-a cook’s compendium

More specifically, it is

“A cook’s compendium of 40 varieties, from Arugula to Watercress, with more than 175 recipes” from the title page

The authors

Jenn Louis has competed on Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters,” was named one of Food & Wine’s “Best New Chefs,” and has earned two nominations for the James Beard Foundation Award of Best Chef: Northwest. Her debut cookbook, Pasta By Hand published in 2015, was nominated for an IACP from the International Association of Culinary Professionals and this, her second book, debuted in April 2017 and won an IACP award. The book was also nominated for a James Beard Award.

She has owned and operated three restaurants and a catering business in Portland, Oregon. Jenn is actively involved with nonprofits including World Central Kitchen, Alex’s Lemonade and Share Our Strength.

Kathleen Squires is a food and travel writer from New York City. She has coauthored The Coolhaus Ice Cream Book, The Quick Six Fix, and The Journey, which won an IACP award.

Why write about greens?

The Book of Greens is about 40 different varieties of greens; some you probably already know and use-

  • arugula
  • bok choy
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cabbage
  • kale
  • lettuces
  • spinach

Others are less known and used, at least to me-

  • agretti
  • chickweed
  • mache
  • mizuna
  • seaweed
  • succulents
  • wild and foraged greens
Greens are a superfood because they are so nutritious, are inexpensive to grow, and come in many varieties with a broad diversity of flavors and textures. Jenn Louis

green leafy vegetables
image from LIGHTSTOCK.COM, stock photo site, an affiliate link

What’s in The Book of Greens?

This book is a cookbook, not a textbook on greens, so it features recipes, some simple, some complicated, but all incorporating some variety of greens. She starts by covering some cooking basics as it applies to greens-

  • How to buy greens-fresh, in small quantities
  • How to prepare-clean and handle them gently
  • How to cook-which methods work best for each variety
  • Storage of greens
  • Tools to use in prep and cooking
  • Notes on common ingredients used in cooking greens-oils, spices, salts, stocks, vinegars
  • Seasons-when to buy

Watercress basics –Nasturtium officinale

an ultrapeppery, strong-stemmed green, one of the oldest documented greens, dating back to ancient Greece, Rome, and Persia page 271
  • most often used in salads and sandwiches, and pureed as a soup
  • used in sandwiches for British afternoon tea
  • prescribed by Hippocrates (an ancient Greece physician, considered the father of medicine)
  • used by Captain Cook’s crew to prevent scurvy

This last point was likely due to its Vitamin C content; a deficiency causes the disease scurvy. It also is rich in other vitamins- A, B, E, K, and the minerals calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and manganese. Some experts call it the most nutrient-rich vegetable.

How to use watercress

Watercress grows in the spring and fall in North America. She calls it a tender green which can be eaten raw or cooked. Best cooking methods are

  • lightly sauteed
  • wilted in soups
  • quickly steamed
  • quickly stir-fried over very high heat

Watercress recipes in this book

  • Chicken and pork belly paella with watercress
  • Slow-roasted pork tonnato with watercress and tomatoes
  • Watercress soup with creme fraiche and za’atar

Wild watercress-Nasturtium microphyllium

This watercress relative grows wild, rather than cultivated. It has a “more intense peppery and piquant flavor.” It grows in any watery terraine-streams, lakes, ponds. (Edible wild greens must be chosen carefully, so as not to confuse them with poisonous plants.)

In addition to the authors, the photographer, Ed Anderson, deserves special recognition. His photos of the greens and the finished recipes make this a “coffee table book”, even if you never try a single recipe.

Also by Jenn louis, pasta by hand

Other posts on this blog about watercress

powerhouse vegetables

“A 2014 research study tried to determine exactly which fruits and vegetables were most likely to keep us healthy.

They defined  “powerhouse fruits and vegetables” as those  highest in nutrients, specifically the minerals potassium, calcium, iron and zinc and vitamins A,B,C, D, E and K. ” continue reading at the link above

exploring the HEART of healthy cooking

Thanks for following this blog. If you’re visiting, I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me. I also want you to find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest , Instagram, and LinkedIn .

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