Other Common Names:
The other common names for the herb watercress are Tall Nasturtium,Berro, Berros,Brooklime, Brown Cress, Cress, Cresson, Cresson D'Eau,Cresson De Fontaines, Cresson Des Jardins, Cresson Du Pays, Habb Ar Rashad, Hurf Al May,Nasturtium, Suteresi and Witte Waterkers.
Cress is one of the first known leafy vegetables to be consumed. The Romans and Ancient Egyptians were known to eat watercress for various health reasons. The Greeks and Romans thought it improved the brain, and later, in medieval Europe, it became an ingredient in a salve for sword wounds. Watercress, sometimes referred to as True Nasturtium, is native to Europe and Asia, and it is now grown in the New World as well. Watercress is so named because it naturally favors wet areas around springs and along riverbanks. Watercress is among the earliest green vegetables cultivated by man - first by the Persians, then soon after by the Greeks and Romans. Watercress was a staple for Greek and Persian soldiers, who noticed that it improved their health and conditioning. Though its scientific name is Nasturtium officinale, the Watercress is unrelated to the garden flower called nasturtium. Loosely translated, Nasturtium is derived from Latin words meaning "wrinkled nose," which alludes to Watercress' pungent odor. Watercress contains a large amount of sulfur, which may add to the odor, but also adds to its benefits. Alabama is known as the "Watercress Capital of the World" and Alresford, near Winchester, is often considered the watercress capital of Britain.
Connected to a creeping rootstock, the hollow, branching stem, 1-2 feet in length, generally extends with its leaves above the water. The smooth, somewhat fleshy, dark green leaves are odd-pinnate with 1-4 pairs of small, oblong or roundish leaflets where the terminal one being larger than the rest. Flowers small and white produced towards the extremity of the branches in a sort of terminal panicle. It is easily found by its hemlock-like white flowers, and when out of flower, by its finely toothed and somewhat pointed leaves, much longer than those of the watercress and of a paler green. The true nasturtium or Indian Cress cultivated in gardens as a creeper has brilliant orange-red flowers and produces the seeds which serve as a substitute for capers in pickles. The Latin name 'Nasturtium' is derived from the words nasus tortus (a convulsed nose) on account of its pungency.
Watercress is widely distributed in Europe and Northern Asiatic countries. Found in temperate regions throughout the world, watercress thrives along or in fresh running water.
Watercress is a perennial plant which thrives in clear, cold water and is found in ditches and streams everywhere. Although commonly found in the wild, it is also widely cultivated as a salad herb. Watercress grows in every state and throughout Canada in shallow creeks, ditches, along the edges of slow-moving rivers, in ponds, lakes, and brooks-wherever the water is clear, cool, and neither stagnant nor too fast-running. Watercress usually grows where the water is from 2 to 6 inches deep.
Cultivation of watercress is practical on both a large scale and a garden scale. Being semi-aquatic, watercress is well-suited to hydroponic cultivation, thriving best in water that is slightly alkaline. It is frequently produced around the headwaters of chalk streams. In many local markets the demand for hydroponically-grown watercress exceeds supplies. This is due in part to the fact that cress leaves are unsuitable for distribution in dried form and can only be stored for a short period. The packaging used by supermarkets using sealed plastic bags under some internal pressure has allowed the distribution of watercress. If unharvested, watercress can grow to a height of 50-120 cm. Also sold as sprouts, the edible shoots are harvested days after germination. Like many plants in this family, the foliage of watercress becomes bitter when the plants begin producing flowers.
If there is no creek or pond, try making a small pool, or simply plant it in a tub filled with sand and water. You can even grow watercress in clay pots, placed in a tray of water. Just be sure to change the water every day to keep it fresh and clear. Easy to propagate, watercress likes a mixture of rich alluvial soil, ground rocks such as river sand or limestone, and peat or humus. Below the water's surface, watercress sends out many fine white roots. Any section of the plant stem with roots on it will take hold and begin a new patch when anchored in a suitable environment. This is how watercress survives in nature, as stream beds are constantly being altered by floods and droughts. It is also how watercress spreads so quickly once it is introduced, often traveling in advance of civilization on its way down an undeveloped river system.
The hemlock like white flowers of watercress is in bloom generally during the months of summer.
Pests and Diseases
Diseases are rarely a problem in watercress. In Asia the crop may be affected by a virus which spreads when using cuttings only. To overcome these problem seedlings should be planted rather than using cuttings. The seed should be collected from vigorous plants that are free from diseases. In the Caribbean region Cercospora nasturtii is recorded as the main disease. Aster yellows transmitted by leafhoppers can also be a problem. Flea beetles, aphids and caterpillars could affect the crop but with an adequate flow of water they are usually not a problem, especially if farmers can submerge the crop as a control measure. Thus the major pests of watercress include diamondback moth, cabbage white butterfly, aphids, and thrips and diseases like bacterial and fungal spots, rust and white rust.
The leaves, flowers and seeds are the most commonly used parts of the watercress for its medicinal and commercial purposes.
- The leaves have a high vitamin and mineral content and also help digestion.
- It has been used since the time of Hippocrates as a stimulant and expectorant in the the treatment of coughs and bronchitis and helps in blood sugar level.
- Watercress has also been used as a specific in tuberculosis.
- Chinese take the watercress soup to treat canker sores on the tongue or lips, blisters in the mouth, swollen gums, bad teeth and foul breath.
- Watercress tea or juice is valuable for eliminating accumulated fluids in body tissue, such as in gout, and for clearing mucus congestion from the lungs.
- Watercress is considered diuretic and is thought to aid in breaking up kidney or bladder stones as well.
- The juice of the fresh leaves has been used to treat acne, eczema, ringworm, rashes, and similar skin irritations and infections.
- It has also been used as a medicinal herb in the treatment of scurvy and tuberculosis.
- Watercress is cultivated for its leaves, which are principally used as salad greens or garnishes.
- Externally the leaves of the herb help the face from blotches, spots and blemishes, when applied as a lotion.
- Watercress is one of the main ingredients in V8 Vegetable Juice.
Watercress has a flower that resembles a cross. Four uniform petals make up the cross-like structure that confirms its inclusion in the cruciferae family.