Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) is a member of the Brassicaeae (Mustard) Family, making it a relative of cabbage and radish. The genus name is from the Latin, nasus tortus, and meaning “writhing nose” in reference to the pungent qualities of the plant. Watercress also goes by the name of Water Pepper, as it grows in fresh shallow cold running water and has a spicy flavor. It is native to Eurasia and now flourishes in all fifty states. Watercress thrives during winter months in many states, indicating its power and strength.
In ancient Greek and Roman times, people were suggested to “eat more cress and learn more wit” as it was considered a brain tonic. Persian mothers fed watercress to their children so they would grow strong and tall. Watercress stimulates bile production, detoxifies the liver, and builds chi. As a medicine food, watercress is considered an alterative (blood purifier), antioxidant, antipyretic (lowers fever), antiscorbutic (prevents scurvy), antiseptic, aphrodisiac, diuretic, expectorant, hypoglycemic, laxative, metabolic stimulant, and nutritive. Watercress has been used throughout history to treat anemia, asthma, bronchitis, cancer, canker sores, dermatitis, diabetes, eczema, edema, eye disorders, flatulence, goiter, gout, hair loss, headaches (due to nerves), infection, jaundice, yellow mucus, obesity, urinary stones, poor teeth, and tuberculosis. Watercress can prevent free radical damage the formation of aging lipofuscin pigments.
Watercress is considered alkaline, pungent, bitter, sweet, and warm. Cooking decreases its pungency, but decreases the nutritional value. Watercress is rich in beta carotene, chlorophyll, folic acid, vitamin C, E, bioflavonoids, calcium, iodine, iron, manganese, potassium, sulfur, zinc, and, sulphur. The leaves are used in salads, mixed with milder greens, sandwiches, dips, soups, and as a garnish. It combines well with a bit of citrus flavor. Add to vegetable juices.
Topically watercress can be used as a tonic to encourage thick hair growth. The juice is applied to skin to clear acne, blemishes, eczema, and freckles. Use as a poultice for glandular and lymphatic swellings.
Watercress can harbor parasites such as liver flukes if collected from contaminated water, so a thorough washing, soaking in a natural cleansing solution, or cooking is first is suggested. Lively up yourself with watercress!