Watercress – one of nature’s most nutritionally dense powerhouses of healthful goodness – is a member of the robust and ubiquitous Cruciferae family of plants. Also known as cress, watercress is considered a nutrient-rich member of the vegetal kingdom, with a flavor and texture that’s both crunchy and slightly peppery. It’s a nutritional treasure trove of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and has been used around the world for centuries in the culinary, medicinal and beauty secto.
Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) is a cool-season, semi-aquatic plant that grows abundantly in bodies of clean, still water like springs and slow-running streams. The deep green leaves of watercress look like miniature versions of the larger leaves of its relatives such as cabbage, mustard and kale. Watercress is sometimes referred to as “Hercules’ Weed” in honor of the ancient Greek myth in which Hercules purportedly ate the plant to obtain strength, which may have been an ode to the plant’s fortifying nutrient powers.
Nutritionally, watercress has been found to have anti-inflammatory and detoxifying elements, with high concentrations of important nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin A, folic acid and iron. In fact, it contains more vitamin C than oranges do by weight, as well as plenty of fiber; and it is unbelievably low in calories. Watercress is also known for its antioxidant power, with carotenoids in particular acting as a defense against cellular damage, and numerous other phytonutrients contributing to its ability to heal and protect from disease.
Tasted and enjoyed around the world, watercress is versatile and can be prepared in a number of different ways, from salads to sandwiches, from dips to soups. One of the simplest and most popular ways to enjoy watercress is in a salad. It adds a snap of flavor to green salads, in part due to its peppery pungency. Or, for a more substantial dish, grind watercress into a pesto that can top fish fillets, grilled chicken, or pastas. Since most of its nutritive properties are retained in cooking, watercress works deliciously even when heated.
In traditional natural medicine, watercress has often been used to help alleviate anemia, kidney problems, digestive disturbances, and irritable bowel syndrome, as well as to reduce inflammation, aid digestion, and improve overall immunity. It has also been used to treat cancer, due to its high levels of polyphenols and other anti-cancer compounds.
Eating watercress regularly can be beneficial in many other ways as well, from preserving healthy skin and hair, to aiding in weight loss, to preventing cancer and heart disease. And, since it is readily available throughout most of the year, watercress can be easily found in markets and roadside stands, so it can be enjoyed without having to live near a spring or stream.
In the end, not only is watercress packed with potent nutrients and herbal healing properties, but it’s also a delicious and delightful addition to meals. Its power should not be underestimated – so don’t hesitate to add a few sprigs of this superhero vegetable to your next salad or dish. Enjoy the incredible health benefits of watercress and you will be absolutely amazed.