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Otherwise known as Nasturium officianle (Cruciferae), watercress is common throughout most of Europe but not in the Scottish Highlands or Central Wales.  There is evidence that this remarkable plant has been in use as a medicinal herb since the first century, although cultivation on a commercial scale did not start until the early nineteenth.  It contains iron, iodine, copper, calcium and potassium and is a well-known and rich source of Vitamin C.
 
 


GROWING

I was delighted to learn that recent thinking refutes the long-held myth that watercress will only grow in a source of clear, running water.  It will in fact grow anywhere that is reasonably moist.  I am growing it in a child's sunken paddling pool in my back garden, filled with ordinary garden soil.  I drilled two small holes in the bottom of the pool to prevent the contents becoming too wet and turning stagnant.  We are fortunate to live in "watercress country", and the local greengrocer sells bunches of the plant complete with a few roots.  I simply split a bunch into four clumps and planted it, and off it went!  I fear it might eventually find its way out of the pool and become a problem, but I'll deal with that when I get there.  Seeds can be obtained from Chiltern Seeds.  The plant is a hardy perennial and requires little attention.  Shoots should be harvested just above the ground, leaving the roots to sprout again.  It can be gathered any time that the ground is not frozen, but is said to be at its best in May and June.  The plant is covered in small white flowers from May to October.
 

Warning: Wild watercress could be contaminated with the deadly "liver fluke"  parasite present in sheep and cow droppings.  If harvesting wild watercress, ensure neither sheep or cows reside nearby.


MEDICINAL USES

 

Warning: In some people eating too much watercress can lead to bladder problems. 

Seeds, flowers, leaves and stems can be used.

Here are the primary problems that watercress is claimed to be of assistance with:
 

Baldness Skin complaints Protection against infection
Mouth and intestinal bacteria Thyroid problems Kidney Stones and other problems
Cancer relief/cure Nervous ailments Weak eyesight
Breast milk production Infertility Rheumatism and stiff joints
Poor appetite Tuberculosis Bronchial disorders
Dropsy Diabetes Urinary tract disorders

And more….

It has also been claimed that it is an aphrodisiac, though I haven't noticed personally!  Eating two handfuls of the raw, fresh herb (washed) each day is recommended and will help to strengthen the gums and prevent bleeding.   As an alternative, juice can be extracted from the plants by liquidizing and sieving.  Recommended daily dosage is 1-2 fluid ounces.  For those who find the taste repugnant (it is bitter), an equal quantity of cold milk can be added.  Externally a poultice can be used (500gms of pulp mixed with 30 grammes of salt).  A tablespoon of raw seeds consumed in the morning is reputed to cure worm infestation.
 


COSMETIC and OTHER USES

The juice can be used as a hair tonic to strengthen and thicken the hair.  Bruised leaves can be rubbed onto the skin to cure blemishes and (maybe?) freckles.

See Watercress for Hair Growth
on the Potions and Lotions page


CULINARY USES

Add the plant to salads and use as a garnish as often as possible.  In winter, when the texture and flavour of the plants is not quite so good, soups and sauces can be made, see:
Watercress Soup
Watercress Sauce
on the Hedgerow Recipes page.


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