What is watercress?
As well as adding colour and vitamins to dishes, the mustardy bite of watercress cuts through the richness of meat dishes and adds freshness to a simple salad with cucumber and a sour cream dressing.
Watercress is one of the oldest greens in the world. Native to Europe and Asia, watercress was cultivated from a wild plant in 100 AD. Records show that the ancient Greeks, the Phoenicians, the Persians, the Romans and the Portuguese used wild watercress around 3000 years ago.
Watercress was introduced to the USA in the 18th century and nowadays it has found favour in many cuisines. The English love using watercress and add it to a variety of dishes. It is a staple in Mediterranean cooking, the French use it in sauces, salads and soups, and the Chinese add it to soupy broths.
In Australia, watercress is not sold by variety. Sometimes, watercress and other cress are included in salad mixes.
Why watercress is good to eat
- Watercress is a good source of vitamins A, C and K (important for helping your blood to clot).
- It also contains minerals such as iron (involved in the production of red blood cells), calcium (important for the health of your bones), potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure) and manganese (involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function).
- Watercress contains dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy bowel.
- Energy – 100 g of watercress supplies 46 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Watercress is usually grown in shallow, running water, although it can also be grown in wet soil. It prefers a shady area, particularly during summer. The plant grows rapidly to about half a metre and the leaves sprout from hollow stems that float on water and connect to a mass of roots. Watercress is ready to harvest about three weeks after planting.
Wild watercress can also be found growing in creeks and other waterways. Care should be taken if picking watercress from these areas, as it absorbs pollutants from animals and industry (such as agricultural chemicals) that might have contaminated the water.
Choose bunches of watercress with fresh, bright green leaves and stems. Avoid watercress that has wilted leaves, brown patches or other visible damage.
How to store and keep watercress
Store watercress in a storage bag in the crisper section of your fridge. Use within one or two days of buying.
How to use
- Make a classic watercress soup – sauté onion and celery and cook with chopped potato, stock and watercress and blitz in a food processor before returning to the pan, adding milk, nutmeg and lemon juice and serving with crusty bread.
- Serve a nutritious salad – toss watercress with cherry tomatoes, feta cheese and flaked canned tuna, then top with sliced shallots, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.
- Add a twist to your side dish – layer watercress and sliced red capsicum with avocado, then scatter crispy bacon and slices of cooked apple on top and drizzle with a mayonnaise, crème fraîche, honey, mustard and vinegar dressing.
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Better Health Channel
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