Watercress- from tasty to toxic; and a book recommendation

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.

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 swamp

written 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
U.S. map showing distribution of Nasturtium officinale
dark areas represent significant presence of watercress

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.

Watercress is
  • 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 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.


exploring the HEART of health

Dr. Aletha

A son remembers as a nation mourns on D-Day, June 6

In 1943, Bill deployed to England, and prepared for the invasion of France. What he thought would be a grand adventure turned into a nightmare which he vividly captured in his book.

Annually, in the United States and in Europe, people observe June 6 as D-Day.

On June 6, 1944 Allied troops invaded Normandy,liberating France from Nazi occupation and ultimately ending World War II.  

Remembering D-Day by the Numbers

(source-The American Legion Magazine

  • 156,000 troops from Allied nations, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Norway, and others 
  • 5 beaches along 50 miles of Normandy coast 
  • 6000 ships
  • 50,000 vehicles
  • 11,000 planes
  • 12,004 killed, wounded, missing or captured 

Remembering D-Day by a man, his art, and his son

I learned about D-Day from my late friend Bill Hart, who died in 2014. Bill served in the U.S. Army during World War II , and his unit was part of the force that invaded Normandy.

Bill wrote an illustrated memoir about his military experiences. Through his written and visual account, he left us a first hand account of an experience that changed his life and changed the world.

In this updated version of a previous post, I share some of Bill’s art and memories of Bill shared by his son Terry (my thanks to Bill’s wife Greta who graciously gave me permission to share from Terry’s social media post)

He was a true artist and entrepreneur who always enjoyed laughing and meeting new and interesting people. He was wise enough to not limit his conversation to only sports, religion or politics most men comfortably slide into. But instead, he always talked about real thoughts and feelings as well as the history of his Irish roots.

Bill’s son, Terry Hart

Fighting the war in Europe

As a young 18-year-old, he volunteered into World War II seeking adventure way before he was called to serve.

Terry Hart

In 1943, Bill deployed to England, and prepared for the invasion. What he thought would be a grand adventure turned into a nightmare which he vividly captured in his book.

Several days into the fighting on the beaches at Normandy, he was assigned to pick up and transport the bodies of fallen soldiers. Thereafter, as he worked his way across France and Belgium into Germany, he found himself dodging enemy soldiers, liberating concentration camps, dealing with angry and defeated POWs, and famished, humiliated civilians struggling to survive.  Bill described what he saw and felt this way.

“At night I would think about the poor GI’s family when they got the news of his death. I tried not to think too much about this “dead guy” job. It seemed to go on forever.
For the next month and a half I was really alone, not attached to any outfit. I found my own food, water, gas for the Jeep and slept alone beside the Jeep in an open field. I shaved with cold water in my helmet and used my Jeep mirror to see.
The Germans were always near. I was scared I would be killed or captured. “Who knows where I am? Who would tell my mother if I died?”
In the beginning it had been exciting being alone with the invasion action all around me. But now I have panic attacks and nightmares of the dead bodies waking me as I sleep in the open field alone.
Most GI’s have other soldiers around them to feel safety in numbers. I had no one. I can’t get their dead faces out of my mind. I wait for the bright morning sun to erase the terrible images.”

Fighting and winning war within

in Terry’s words

“He had many adventures to talk about later in his adult life. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay area he jokingly said he wanted to be the big fish in a smaller pond and made a tactical decision to move to Tulsa Oklahoma and to start up an ad agency “Ad Inc.” And as fate would have it, meet the love of his life Greta and started a family, and had three sons (Patrick, Tim, and Terrance)

A few years later he renovated a classic 1920’s Spanish style two-story house and built a large Art studio off the side. Including a photography darkroom and printing stat camera in the basement.

Many years later he admitted suffering PTSD from his unwanted WWII memories, and found a way to deal with his pain by painting his military experiences “as seen through his own eyes”. And then later wrote and published a book full of illustrations. ”

“Later I forced myself to stop thinking about the “dead guys” experience and eventually forgot it.
62 years later, in 2006, when I applied for compensation for war injury during the Battle of the Bulge, the woman who interviewed me kept telling me I was leaving something out, something from my past.
I finally remembered after much writing about my remembered events in the 1944 and 1945 war period and was diagnosed with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).
I believe, the greatest event of the 20th century took place during the June 1944 D-Day Normandy Invasion. I am very proud of being a small part of that great historical event that will always be remembered.”

Quotes and drawings from Bill’s memoir, D-DAY VET REMEMBERS NORMANDY (copyright) used by permission of his wife

Bill Hart, World War II veteran


“As I was starting my own career in Dallas TX, I would make trips home to see him and my mother as often as I could. And would always enjoy laughing together, plus having real man-to-man conversations at his favorite coffee place McDonald’s…haha.

I often think today how lucky I was to have had a father wise enough to save his own life by channeling his PTSD pain into paintings and sketches, (rather than) losing himself from unwelcome suffering. He often expressed to me that he never feared death, but instead viewed it as yet another adventure. And looked forward to seeing his tough Irish Uncles and Father in heaven along with meeting Jesus.”

Terry Hart posted these memories of his father on the fifth anniversary of his father’s death, the day after Christmas 2014. My husband and I loved Bill and Greta and were honored to attend the graveside ceremony where a military honor attendant presented his family with the flag which draped Bill’s coffin.




Once known as “shell shock” or “battle fatigue”, post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, has become the most common post-military service disorder. Although it also occurs in civilians who experience severe trauma, it has  been defined, studied, and treated among current and former service members.

PTSD develops after exposure to or experiencing significant traumatic events such as interpersonal violence, death or  threat of death, serious accidents, disasters and combat.

There are 4 types of symptoms-

  • Intrusions, such as flashbacks, nightmares
  • Avoidance- isolating oneself from people and/or certain situations
  • Negative mood changes, such as irritability, anger and depression
  • Hypervigilance- being easily startled, always on edge

PTSD can lead to depression, anxiety, alcohol and substance abuse and suicide.

It is also frequently associated with traumatic brain injury (TBI)  and chronic pain.

The National Center for PTSD (Veterans Administration)  is dedicated to research and education on trauma and PTSD, working to assure that the latest research findings help those exposed to trauma. They offer extensive information and resources at this link

PTSD: National Center for PTSD

explore the HEART of health with Dr Aletha


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