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Plant of Week 2: Watercress
Look for watercress around the island this week! Just like kale, broccoli, radishes, cauliflower, and cabbage (and the Plant of Week 1: Bittercress), watercress is another member of the mustard family, Brassicaceae, or stated simply "The Brassica Family," whose spicy members thrive in cool temperatures. It is a popular wild spring edible that people forage for its light peppery flavor and numerous health benefits, similar to the other cruciferous vegetables in the Brassica family.
Species: Nasturtium officinale
HABITAT: Watercress is a semi-aquatic perennial plant, native to Europe and Asia. It can be found growing in cool, shallow streams. It was introduced to the Americas in the 1800s and has since been listed by 46 states as a noxious and invasive weed.
IS IT EDIBLE?: Yes! Watercress has a peppery, slightly spicy flavor. Eat the leaves and flowers raw or cooked. Add to salads or use it as a garnish on top of soups, toast, sandwiches, and more for a peppery punch. Use pureed watercress as a chimichurri sauce or a pesto base.
CAUTION: Avoid harvesting watercress from areas where the water may be contaminated with toxic chemicals or pathogens. Wash it carefully to avoid ingesting any harmful protozoa or parasites in untreated water sources.
IS IT MEDICINAL?: Like other Brassicas, watercress has a spicy, bitterness from the glucosinolates in it which are known to help remove carcinogens from the body (and are used by the plant to ward off predators). It is an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin K. Watercress is packed with antioxidants and phytochemicals, both of which ward of certain types of cancer. Like other cruciferous vegetables, watercress is good for blood vessels and heart health. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Recipes with Watercress:
- Recipe of Week 2: Watercress Chimichurri
- Watercress Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette
- Watercress Walnut Pesto
Photo credit: Randi Baird Photography and Edible Madison