In old high German, sharp means "cresso", and the name is in the Watercress Program. The spiciness gives it mustard oil glycosides, which also have a healing effect and focus on the cress as a spice and salad plant. Here is a brief overview of the most important facts in advance:
- Watercress occurs wildly in clear flowing waters in Europe and has been cultivated for centuries.
- The cress is a spice and medicinal plant at the same time, and so healthy nutrition can be combined with the treatment of diseases.
- Watercress is one of the best vitamins and minerals and tastes bitter-hot due to mustard oil glycosides.
- The plant cleanses the blood, drives urine and acts against bacteria.
Watercress shines with vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, C, D, E and K in larger quantities. In addition, there are essential oils, tannins, bitter substances and mustard oil glycosides, which ensure a pungent taste. The plant contains plenty of iodine and is therefore suitable for treating iodine deficiency. Mineral cress also offers iron, potassium, calcium, folic acid, zinc and niacin.
Watercress has an excellent effect against various diseases that are based on a vitamin deficiency and was an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin D in Germany during the cold season. In ancient times, people used it to treat or prevent scurvy.
The plant cleanses the blood, drives the urine, acts against bacteria and loosens mucus. Watercress helps against:
- To cough,
- Sore throat and throat,
- inflamed gums,
- Digestive problems,
- Loss of appetite,
- Inflammation of the gallbladder,
- an inflamed bladder,
- metabolism disturbed by vitamin or mineral deficiency,
- externally against blemishes, scabies, dandruff, acne, eczema and rash.
Watercress promotes the work of the detoxification organs kidneys, liver and bile, and the bitter substances stimulate the appetite. The diuretic properties also make it a remedy for urinary stones.
What parts of the plant do we use?
Watercress can be used fresh or dried. In general, the fresh plant or its juice is the first choice in Europe. Since watercress is also well suited as a culinary herb, it can be used as a salad ingredient. The fresh leaves are usually combined with other wild herbs that dampen the pungent taste of the watercress.
Such salads should not contain more than 20 grams of cress per serving per day, because the mustard oil glycosides can irritate the stomach at high doses. Watercress is not recommended for pregnant women, small children or people with an irritated intestine.
The name watercress already says that the bach salad (other name of the cress) likes it wet. It is an aquatic plant that prefers clear flowing waters. Then it has few requirements and grows in “carpets” on sand like gravel, mostly on calcareous soil, in springs and streams at a depth of up to two meters.
The entire plant grows up to 90 cm in width, whereby the individual roots assume a creeping basic axis. The tiny cruciferous flowers are in clusters and only open when the sun is shining. The leaves are pinnate and elliptical.
The real watercress originally comes from Europe, North Africa and Asia, but has established itself as a neophyte on almost every continent, in both cold and warmer water.
The ancient Romans and Greeks already knew watercress as a medicinal plant. The doctor Dioskurides wrote: “Cardamine drives and warms the urine. It is also eaten raw. It stains liver and sunburn spots when applied all night and washed off in the morning. ”
In the Middle Ages, medicine was dominated by religious-magical ideas, but cress was scientifically proven to be effective against the diseases for which it was used as a remedy: bronchitis, blood purification, to kill worms, and to stimulate urine flow.
In the early modern period, fresh watercress was an often used remedy for tuberculosis and rheumatism. And Paracelsus mentions it as a medicine against worms and to clean the blood and also against toothache.
In 1626, Matthiolus warned against giving watercress to pregnant women because they urinate too much. Instead, he recommended her for scurvy. This is remarkable because it was not known at the time that scurvy is a deficiency in vitamin C and that “brook herb” really helps here.
In 1742, Weinmann wrote that watercress was a specific "as a remedy for scorbutic eradication and the so-called Miltz complaint." Otherwise, he saw the plant as a remedy for "foul ulcers", jaundice and stones. It is not known whether these are urinary stones.
Kneipp, the inventor of treading water, recommended the fresh watercress for spring cures and used it against diseases of the lungs and anemia.
In Germany watercress has been cultivated at least since 1650 and in 1809 Napoleon took over the cultivation of the medicinal plant from Germany. From 1810 he had them planted at Senlis and Chantilly. The demand was so great that France had to import watercress 100 years later.
In the 20th century, cultivation declined rapidly due to the industrial pollution of waters that affected the plant. On the other hand, watercress has been returning since the 1990s. The British are the leaders in growing watercress, producing thousands of tons of it every year. It is a coveted herb in English cuisine and the "fields" between London and Oxford also serve a large local market.
Real watercress needs cold, clean spring water. In England there is still plenty of that. Graves up to 60 cm deep are used for cultivation, which are filled with slowly flowing water and are windless in winter. Standing water is more likely to become polluted.
Watercress in the kitchen
Watercress can be used just like garden cress and nasturtium. It tastes slightly bitter and pungent.
Although the whole plant is also suitable as a blanched vegetable, in this country we mainly mix the raw leaves with curd cheese, yoghurt or cream cheese and spread with gray and black bread.
Watercress is usually not the main ingredient in green salads, but it tastes too intense. But it turns a boring lettuce into a sparkling experience. If you like the cress, you can combine it with various lettuce plants. However, a combination with other "teasers" such as onion plants is not recommended.
Watercress goes well with carrots, greed, pumpkin, cucumber and borage, with head, endive, iceberg or Romanesco salads, especially with tomatoes and mozzarella, but also with bean salads, pea soups and with scrambled eggs, potato salad and pasta salad.
Watercress rounds off sandwiches, whether with fried egg, turkey breast, smoked tofu, shrimp or lentil patties. To do this, we simply sprinkle the chopped leaves on the sandwich. Among the culinary and medicinal herbs, watercress harmonises particularly well with mint and lemon balm, with fruits with apples and citrus fruits.
Not very common in Germany, but a good insider tip is watercress in sauces. With fish and poultry, but also with cabbage, cress adds the icing on the cake. However, caution is advised, because the dominant taste easily hides a delicate bouquet. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch
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