Although watercress is one of the most widely used fresh vegetables in the world, some refer to it as the most underrated, underused green in the garden! Considered an herb as well as a green, watercress is a member of the mustard family and although widely naturalized in North America it is believed to have originated in Ancient Greece where it was recommended to fortify a soldier’s diet. In England, watercress was a staple part of the working class diet because it is very nutritious and has been commercially grown in the pure waters of southern England since the early 1800. Street sellers would form it into bunches and sell it to be handheld and eaten ice-cream cone style. Brought to the United States by immigrants, commercial production began in 1850 and although Huntsville, Alabama is now known as “Rocket City,” it was once the “Watercress Capital of the World.” Today, however, the Chinese eat the most watercress, using it in soups and stir-fry.
The botanical name Nasturtium, is derived from the Latin tortus nasus which refers to its pungent taste and officinale which means it was originally on the official list of medicinal herbs. Watercress has creeping stems which bear shiny, dark green heart-shaped leaves and rosettes of white flowers similar to sweet alyssum from early summer to mid-autumn. A fast growing, aquatic or semi-aquatic perennial, watercress is well-suited to hydroponic cultivation although it may be grown in the garden in dappled shade during cool weather, provided the soil is kept moist or even in a small water feature. Easy to grow from seed or grocery store cuttings which can be rooted in water and then planted out after the last frost. Harvest by snipping as needed and it will grow back 4 or 5 times to harvest again. Wash and use promptly. Refrigeration destroys the texture so if you need to keep it longer submerge it in water. Also grown as sprouts, the edible shoots can be harvested days after germination.
Watercress adds a peppery radish-like flavor to everything. It is a valuable winter salad green plus may be used instead of lettuce in sandwiches or as a garnish for main dishes or appetizers. The English, of course, are responsible for popularizing the watercress sandwiches as a part of afternoon tea. It may also be cooked as a vegetable or in a traditional watercress soup. The French add it to potato soup, the Italians to minestrone and the Chinese to their egg drop soup. Chopped leaves may be added to cottage cheese, egg dishes or butters for topping grilled chicken or fish. Use it instead of parsley for a spicy kick. Once popular as a tea made with lemon and sugar, it can be added to a blender with tomato juice, fresh basil and a dash of Tabasco for a refreshing and healthy drink. Watercress is a good source of vitamin C & E, minerals and trace elements plus with more folic acid than broccoli and more iron than spinach, it tops the list of recommended greens. It is also a breath freshener and palate cleanser! No wonder some suggest that its regular consumption could effectively reduce, if not eliminate, many of the world’s problems with disease and hunger.
Watercress may be grown in large pots
which may be kept moist by
sitting in pans of water which are replenished daily
1/4c crumbled blue cheese
1/4c chopped toasted walnuts
2Tbs sour cream
8oz cream cheese
1 1/2c minced watercress
Combine all ingredients except tortilla shells. Spread mixture generously on tortilla and roll up. Can be eaten whole or wrapped & refrigerated overnight then cut into 1” rounds for tea time.
CUCUMBER & CRESS SOUP
1 chopped onion
1 1/2c minced watercress
4c chicken stock
1 cucumber, seeded, peeled & pureed
Sauté onions in oil then add cress and cook until soft. Add chicken stock and simmer 30 mins., then remove from heat and puree in batches. Return to pot and add buttermilk and pureed cucumber. Slowly reheat and season.
2 c watercress
2 c asparagus cut into 1” pieces
2 c fresh strawberries, sliced
Juice & rind of a lemon
2Tbs olive oil
Blanch asparagus in boiling water for 3-5 minutes or until tender, but still crisp. Drain and rinse in cold water. Combine lemon juice & rind, olive oil and honey and mix well. Mix the watercress, strawberries and asparagus and toss with the dressing. Serve immediately.