Watercress is not Just an Old Fashioned Tea Time Treat
I was going to write a blog about all the good things in both watercress and watermelon but then I found there were so many benefits that each warranted their own page.
So here goes with the watercress first!
Watercress has only recently come back into favor – for years it was best known as a filling for sandwiches – dainty watercress sandwiches being very popular in England as part of a teatime spread. But now many realize how nutritious this herb is and how it can be used in so many ways to benefit our health.
American cooks are now finding lots of new ways to use watercress
They use them in salads and dressings, herb butters and spreads, sandwiches, soups, and casseroles and watercress is often featured on the menu in top restaurants.
Watercress is a member of the cabbage family
This family includes other greens such as mustard greens, kale, kohlrabi and turnip greens.
All of these provide an excellent source of vitamins B1, B2,B6, C, E, manganese and carotenes as well as fiber, iron, copper and calcium. These cabbage family greens have 3 times as much calcium as phosphorus making this a very beneficial ratio in preventing osteoporosis by increasing the utilization of calcium and preventing its excretion. Rich in mineral salts as well as vitamins C, A, B2, D and E, in the past watercress was used, not only as a scurvy preventative and remedy, but as a springtime tonic and appetite stimulant.
In nature, watercress is a perennial plant which thrives in cold water, found in ditches and streams everywhere and is commercially cultivated for its leaves. It is easy to grow yourself from seed but of course loves plenty of water – it can literally sit in it. So if you are lucky enough to have a stream flowing through your garden (natural or man-made) here is the ultimate crop to grow in it wherever the water is from 2 to 6 inches deep. If not, you can simply plant it in a tub filled with sand and water.
You can even grow watercress in clay pots, placed in a tray of water, making sure to change the water every day to keep it fresh and clear. Easy to propagate, watercress likes a mixture of rich alluvial soil, ground rocks such as river sand or limestone, and peat or humus.
Below the water's surface, watercress sends out many fine white roots. Any section of the plant stem with roots on it will take hold and begin a new patch when anchored in a suitable environment. So it will spread if you give it the means. Watercress should be harvested before it flowers in summer.
Watercress has been used through the centuries as a natural remedy
- Watercress regulates the flow of bile helping to improve digestion.
- Watercress helps in weight loss because its diuretic action draws excess fluid down and out of the body.
- Watercress will clear and improve the complexion.
- Raw watercress leaves can be chewed to cure bleeding gums.
- The leaves can also be used as a poultice to relieve an enlarged prostate gland, treat swollen feet or sprained ankles.
- Watercress helps towards the normal functioning of the thyroid gland because it is a good source of iodine.
- Watercress strengthens bones and teeth because of its high calcium content.
- Watercress is rich in sulfur which is so important for absorbing protein, purifying blood, building cells and keeping hair and skin healthy.
- Watercress contains lutein that helps in preventing arterial damage and heart disease.
- Watercress juice when mixed with vinegar and then drunk will overcome lethargy and drowsiness – a natural pick me up.
- A watercress solution can be used instead of a cough medicine - leaves are finely chopped and steeped in honey overnight.
- Eat a few watercress leaves every day for the treatment of allergies, watery eyes, sneezing and a stuffy head.
- Watercress is used to stimulate the appetite and relieve indigestion.
- With its valuable source of vitamins and minerals, watercress is of particularly value for chronic illness.
- More complicated watercress remedies for infusions or teas can be used for blisters in the mouth, headaches, eczema, gout or mucus congestion.
How to make a watercress tea
Steep 1 tablespoon chopped fresh watercress in 1 cup boiling water for 20 minutes, then strain and drink. Fresh juice can be easily obtained from an electric juicer, but should be combined with some carrot or tomato juice before drinking.
How to choose and buy watercress
If you are buying watercress for the first time, look for fresh-looking greens with spring leaves that do not show signs of wilting and yellowing. Place the watercress leaves in a large plastic bag and store them in the refrigerator. This helps to keep the leaves fresh for 2 to 3 days.
You can add watercress to cooked dishes, salads, soup, stews and stir-fries, just before serving. Use watercress as a garnish on vegetables or with fresh fruit such as paw paw or pineapple. Or just eat the green leaves raw or in that old fashioned way as a filling in sandwiches. Here is a great sounding, easy and very healthy recipe from Rachael Ray.
Watercress Salad with Lime Dressing
- 1 bunch watercress, trimmed and coarsely chopped
- 4 sprigs fresh mint, chopped, to make 2 tablespoons
- A handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 heart of romaine, coarsely chopped
- 1 ripe lime, juiced
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and pepper
Combine watercress, mint, parsley and romaine in a small salad bowl. Combine lime juice and sugar in a small dressing bowl. Whisk oil into lime juice in a slow stream. Pour dressing over the salad and season with salt and pepper, to your taste.
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