Watercress ~ Nasturtium Officinale
~ Watercress ~ (Nasturtium officinale)
As I’ve been walking in & out of the bush a few times a week the last few weeks, I’ve really enjoyed gathering handfuls of deliciously abundant, fresh, healthy Watercress. The pungent flavor makes an incredible topping to rustic offgrid camp meals.
This wild perennial plant in the brassicaceae family is found growing in running water & streams. Native to Europe & Asia, believed to originate from Greece, it’s now found growing all over the world and is popular for it’s fresh, peppery flavor.
Watercress is apparently ‘one of the oldest known leaf vegetables consumed by humans’. WOW! How that’s been figured out I’m not sure, feels like that claim is a competition between so many of my favorite edible weeds!
Watercress has been used worldwide for generations with a long list of medicinal uses, including as a breath freshner, a cure for hangovers, a blood purifier, to clear the complexion & brighten the eyes, to treat coughs, colds, asthma & tuberculosis and even to prevent hair from falling out. Some more out there uses include as an oral contraceptive (please don’t rely on this info) and as an aphrodisiac. Hippocrates grew watercress outside the first hospital he founded on the island of Kos around 400BC, and used it to treat blood disorders. The Romans thought it cured mental illness & would also eat Watercress to make bold decisions, whilst the First Nations Native Americans use it to treat kidney problems and constipation. The Persians observed that soldiers were healthier when Watercress was part of their daily diet & apparently Captain James Cook was able to ward off scurvy when circumnavigating the globe three times, due in part to his use of watercress in the diet of his sailors.
In the UK watercress was first cultivated in 1808 & now the town of Alresford, is considered the nation's watercress capital, holding a Watercress Festival that brings in more than 15,000 visitors every year. I’d love to experience the different ways Watercress is prepared at a festival in it’s honor!
You’ll find quite a few varities of ‘cress’ growing in the wild in NZ, and they all have a delicious flavor. The pictured variety is the popular Watercress/Nasturtium Officinale.
Watercress is best picked just before it flowers, and eaten raw, in salads, sandwiches, or to top soups. It has a very strong flavor, similar to wasabi or horseradish. It can be cooked and makes a flavorsome sauce. In the 17th Century Watercress soup was very popular and was claimed to cleanse the blood. Change the water repeatedly whilst cooking to reduce bitterness.
Cress is very nutritious, reputed to be rich in Vitamins A, B2, C, D, E, and minerals, including manganese, iron, phosphorus, iodine and calcium.
Always be wary of where you collect your watercress, as it will soak up any toxins or pollution in the stream. It’s really important to check your water source, especially if you are near any farmland, as watercress growing in manure run off is prone to host liver fluke, and unhealthy water can host parasites such as giardia.
Also note that Watercress’s latin name is Nasturtium Officinale. This is not the common garden variety of Nasturtium like you’d imagine, whose common name is Tropaeolum majus.