Watercress, a member of the mustard family, is an aquatic plant. Commercial watercress is usually cultivated in large ponds but is at its best when found growing wild in springs or streams. The leaves of watercress are dime-sized with a dark green, glossy color. Its peppery taste actually leaves a cool sensation in the mouth. Watercress leaves were used for medicinal and culinary purposes by the Persians, Greeks and Romans more than 3,000 years ago. It is eaten around the world in many kinds of dishes. Watercress was a known remedy for scurvy in the 1600s. We now know that watercress is extremely nutrient dense and contains an array of powerful phytonutrients.
Peak Time: Available year round
Average Price: $3.87 for 4 oz.
Tips for Selection and Storage: Watercress is usually sold in bunches held in ice or ice water. Look for bunches of crisp, deep green leaves with no wilting, bruising, or yellowing. Watercress is highly perishable and should be used the day of purchase if possible. It can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days if handled properly. For best results, cut off ½ inch of the stems. Loosen the tie or untie the bunch all together. Stand the stem ends in a glass of water or chopped ice and wrap the leaves with plastic wrap sealing all around the glass. Rinse only when ready to use. Especially in the south, you may forage for wild watercress growing year round by running streams, springs, ponds, or lakes.
Tips for Preparation: Watercress is usually eaten raw, mixed in salads with other greens. It is an excellent garnish on hot or cold dishes. The English have popularized its use in sandwiches. The Chinese stir it into soups and use it in stir-fry dishes. French cuisine uses watercress in cream soups like potato or as an accompaniment to roasted chicken. In Latin America it is a part of salads with heart of palm, red onions, and avocado. Watercress also makes a great pesto, can be added to smoothies, dips, and sauces. It goes very well in many egg dishes like omelets, frittatas, and quiches.
Nutritional Highlights: Watercress has been called the King of Greens! Watercress belongs to the same cruciferous family as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage which all contain super nutrients, but watercress seems to use these nutrients and phytonutrients in an unusual synergy with each other. At least seventeen nutrients are packed into these tiny leaves, especially vitamins C, K, B6, and riboflavin with antioxidant power from a huge variety of carotenoids and flavonoids. Watercress is also rich dietary fiber and in the minerals potassium, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus that boost bone health. Scientific studies have shown that the nutritional oxidative power of watercress helps protect against chronic diseases as we age such as cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancers, diabetes, and osteoporosis. However, because of the high amount of vitamin K in watercress and other green leafy vegetables, those who are on blood thinners need to take care not to overdo it.
For a recipe for watercress salad with avocado and oranges, click here.