Watercress is nutrient rich perennial herb found in abundance near springs and alongside slow running water ways. This aquatic plant has been in cultivation since ancient times for its food and medicinal uses in Europe, Central Asia and America.
Botanically this fast growing, green leafy vegetable belongs to brassicaceae family. Scientific name: Nasturtium officianale.
The plant features small, oval, deep green succulent leaves with high moisture content. The leaves feature sharp; peppery and slightly sour taste somewhat like mustard greens and garden cress (Lepidium sativum). Racemes of small white flowers appear in summer which turns in to small pods containing two rows of seeds. Its ripe seeds are also edible.
Health benefits of Watercress
- This rich flavored green leafy vegetable is store house of many phytonutrients that have health promotional and disease prevention properties.
- One of the very low calorie green leafy vegetables (11 kcal per 100 g raw leaves) and very low in fats; recommended in cholesterol controlling and weight reduction programs.
- Cress leaves and stems contain gluconasturtiin, a glucosinolate compound that gives peppery flavor. Research studies suggest that the hydrolysis product of gluconasturtiin, 2-phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), is believed to be cancer preventing by inhibition of phase I enzymes (mono-oxygenases and cytochrome P450s).
- Fresh cress has more concentration of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) than some of fruits and vegetables. 100 g of leaves provide 47 mg or 72% of RDA of vitamin C. As an anti-oxidant, vitamin C helps to quench free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) through its reduction potential properties. Lab studies suggests that regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin C helps maintain normal connective tissue, prevent iron deficiency, and also helps body develop resistance against infectious agents by boosting immunity.
- It is one of the excellent vegetable sources for vitamin-K; 100 g provides over 200% of daily recommended intake. Vitamin K has potential role bone health by promoting osteotrophic (bone formation and strengthening) activity. Adequate vitamin-K levels in the diet helps limiting neuronal damage in the brain; thus, has established role in the treatment of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
- Cress is also excellent source of vitamin-A and flavonoids anti-oxidants like ß carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin.
- It is also rich in B-complex group of vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin and pantothenic acid that are essential for optimum cellular metabolic functions.
- It is also rich source of minerals like copper, calcium, potassium, magnesium, manganese and phosphorus. Potassium in an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure by countering effects of sodium. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase. Calcium is required as bone/teeth mineral and in the regulation of heart and skeletal muscle activity.
Regular inclusion of cress in the diet is found to prevent osteoporosis, anaemia, vitamin A deficiency and believed to protect from cardiovascular diseases and colon and prostate cancers.
Selection and storage
Watercress is available year around. In the stores, purchase thick, broad, succulent and deep green colored fresh leaves. Fresh cress leaves impart tangy peppery aroma when squeezed between thumb and index fingers.
In general, this green leafy herb best grows in aquatic environments; therefore, it should be washed in clean running water and then soaked in salt water for about half an hour in order to rid off parasite eggs and worms that thrive in aquatic conditions.
Fresh greens submerged in water and stored in the refrigerator where they keep well for up to 2-3 days.
Preparation and serving methods
Watercress gives beautiful peppery flavor to recipes. Soak in cold water for few minutes to revive sunken leaves. Separate roots from leaves. Then, rinse once again in clean water and pat dry before using in cooking. Trim away thick fiber stems.
Here are some serving tips:
- Fresh cress sprigs used in green salads.
- The greens are used in many European cuisines in sandwiches and vegetable drinks.
- They are also used in the preparation of soups.
- Cress leaves can also be steamed and eaten as a vegetable.
Buy watercress from known source of farms using clean running water. Cress from stagnant and polluted water may be host to some harmful parasites like flukes and larvae.
Here are some of my healthy recipes that feature Watercress:
Source : www.nutrition-and-you.com