This little green plant has a long season – April to October – and is one of the healthiest greens on the planet. So, now’s the time to rush out and get some. It’ll be available everywhere you can get vegetables, but I prefer to get it on the farmer’s market or the greengrocer, as supermarket watercress is always packed in plastic. As leaves are delicate, most are sprayed with pesticides, so try and get organic ones if you can.
Hippocrates already knew about the health benefits of watercress and made sure to build the first hospital on the Greek island of Kos near a spring, which ensured the supply of fresh watercress. Irish monks would refer to it as “pure food for sages”, and Saxons put it on their balding heads to prevent hair loss.
And indeed, watercress comes with many proven benefits (though preventing hair loss may not be one of them): Watercress is a rich source of calcium and magnesium – two minerals that work together in maintaining bones and teeth, but also a myriad of other bodily functions. It contains more iron than spinach and comes with the vitamin C we need to absorb that: Watercress has as much vitamin C as oranges. Just a cup of watercress contains 1,500 iu of vitamin A (including 950 mcg as beta-carotene) and the daily requirement of vitamin K, which is protective to the brain and helps form and strengthen bones. It also thins the blood, which is why you should avoid watercress (and other leafy greens rich in vitamin K) if you are taking warfarin. Another benefit are the carotenes lutein and zeaxanthin, two nutrients that help prevent macular degeneration, so it protects your eyes, too.
Watercress is a cruciferous vegetable, belonging to the same family as cabbage, broccoli, kale and cauliflower, and as such it helps fight cancer through phytonutrients called isothiocyanates and sulphoraphanes. They induce the death of cancer cells, disarm carcinogens and stimulate cell defences against cancer.
It is mostly eaten raw, either as an ingredient of a salad or a sandwich filling, but it can also be eaten cooked and makes delicious soups. It has a strong, peppery taste, but this is lost in cooking, when watercress turns into a sweet vegetable.
My next newsletter will come with an easy recipe for watercress soup. There is still time to sign up!
For more on watercress, including recipes for inspiration, click here.