Whetting Your Appetite for Watercress

Watercress was enjoyed by the ancient Persians, Greeks, and Romans. When Hippocrates founded the first hospital on the Island of Kos around 400 BC, he grew wild watercress in the natural springs and used it to treat blood disorders. Nicholas Messier first grew watercress in Erfurt, Germany, in the middle of the 16th century. The herbalist John Gerard recommended watercress as a remedy for scurvy as early as 1636. It was far easier to obtain than citrus fruits in those days. Captain James Cook was able to circumnavigate the globe three times, due in part, to his use of watercress in his sailors’ diets. Watercress was on the menu for the vary first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims and the American Indians. The French make a soup of potatoes and watercress, Potage Cressionniere. The English popularized watercress sandwiches. The Italians add sprigs of watercress to minestrone and other vegetable soups. The Chinese use watercress in soups as well.

A member of the cruciferous vegetable family, watercress has similar health benefits to its cousins, broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sproutsThe cruciferous vegetable family is high in a group of phytochemicals called glucosinolates which are precursors to a group of cancer-fighting compounds known as isothiocyinates. In addition, watercress has a component known as gluconasturtiin, which is converted into a form of isothiocyinate known as Phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC). A study published in Cancer Research in 2007 showed that PEITC inhibited the growth of both human prostate and colon cancer cells. PEITC can also block the growth of breast cancer cells. In fact, PEITC prevents cancer growth at several different points critical to tumor development, and kills leukemia, prostate, myeloma, hepatoma, and colon cancer cells.

Watercress also appears to help lower the risk of the most common cause of adult blindness in the United States, macular degeneration, through its high levels of two carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin. These carotenoids may also reduce the incidence of another common cause of blindness, cataracts.

The high levels of lutein found in watercress may also prevent coronary artery disease and heart attacks by protecting your arteries from the development of dangerous arterial plaque. With 1961 mcg of lutein and zeaxanthin, watercress is an excellent source of these carotenoids.

In addition to these powerful health benefits, watercress is also a rich source of vitamins and is extremely low in calories with only four calories per cup. If you looking to add nutrient punch to your diet, watercress is an excellent choice.

Nutrients in 3 Cups Chopped, Raw Watercress (100 grams)

Nutrient

Amount

DV

vitamin K

250 mcg

312%

vitamin C

43 mg

72%

vitamin A

3191 IU

64%

manganese

.2 mg

12%

calcium

120 mg

12%

potassium

330 mg

9%

vitamin B2

.1 mg

7%

vitamin B6

0.1 mg

6%

phosphorus

60 mg

6%

vitamin B1

.1 mg

6%

vitamin E

1 mg

5%

magnesium

21 mg

5%

protein

2.3 g

5%

copper

0.1 mg

4%

omega-3 fats

0.09 g

4%

vitamin B5

0.3 mg

3%

folate

9 mcg

2%

fiber

.5 g

2%

iron

.2 mg

1%

niacin

0.2 mg

1%

Calories

11

0.5%

Watercress is easy to prepare. Simply rinse it thoroughly in cold water and use a kitchen knife to cut off any over-sized stems. Blot the watercress dry using paper towels or you can use a standard salad spinner. You can eat it raw or lightly steam it. It’s unique, peppery taste can add punch to almost any salad and it makes delicious soups. Unfortunately, exposure to heat may inactivate PEITC, so it’s best to eat it raw for health purposes.

Use watercress to add a bit of flavor and crunch to tea sandwiches. Try chopping raw watercress into small pieces and mix it with hummus and chives. Spread it on to whole grain bread and add some fresh cucumber slices for a light and tasty sandwich. Watercress can be added to sandwiches of any type to add extra flavor and make them healthier.

Watercress adds flavor and nutrient power to salads of all types. Preparation can be as simple as adding freshly prepared watercress to your standard salads or you can design salads around a watercress theme. Watercress tastes particularly delicious when combined with cucumbers and a touch of fennel. Add a sweet lime dressing and you have a satisfying and healthy start to a meal. Consider using sweet fruits such as papaya, pomegranate, tangerine, or pear in a watercress salad to balance watercress’s peppery taste. You’ll be adding nutritional value and antioxidant punch.

Other ways to enjoy watercress include using it in your next heart healthy smoothie, add it to your next scramble or stir fry, or use it as a beautiful, edible garnish.

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13 thoughts on “Whetting Your Appetite for Watercress

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