The watercress is an aquatic plant that originates from Europe and Central Asia. It belongs to the cabbage family (Family Brassicaceae) and holds the distinction of being one of the oldest leafy vegetables consumed by humans. Records have been found showing watercress being used for food and medicine in ancient Persia (now known as Iran), Greece, and Rome. It is also commonly found in the United Kingdom, and has been “naturalized” in the United States as well as in Canada.
Watercress naturally grows in ditches, streams, slow-moving rivers, and along the sides of ponds and lakes. They thrive in an environment of slow-flowing, cold, clear water which is slightly alkaline. Beds of watercress can usually be found in shallow waters where it is only around 2 to 6 inches deep.
In ancient times, physicians have been known to prescribe watercress for weak children. Even the ancient Persian and Greek armies were recommended to include watercress as part of their diet. It is not known whether or not the rulers of that time were already aware of vitamins and minerals, but they did know that the physical conditions of their soldiers improved with watercress consumption.
Nowadays, the plant is cultivated primarily for its leaves, which are popular ingredients in salads and garnishes. There are even a few countries which have included watercress as a permanent part of their diet, including it in a variety of dishes such as soups, sandwiches, and salads. In France, one can order a delicious thick soup called “Potage Cressionniere”, which is made of potatoes and watercress. In the United Kingdom, of course, the watercress sandwich has become a fixture at teas and café menus. China also has recipes for dumplings and soups made with watercress.
Watercress boasts of a high content of alkaline salts when consumed and digested. As a result, watercress has become one of the most popular leafy vegetables due to its alkaline forming properties and the detoxifying benefits it can provide. The ability of watercress to lower the acidity levels in the body helps a lot in improving our overall health and warding off diseases.
Watercress is also rich in zeaxanthin and lutein, which are two important carotenoids that can help to prevent eye problems such as cataracts and macular degeneration. With regards to heart-related illnesses, the combination of alkaline salts and luteins found in watercress can aid in preventing arterial damage, by impairing the growth of plaque on the arterial walls.
Cancer prevention is also one of the most important benefits that watercress can provide. Degenerative diseases like cancer thrive in an acidic environment, therefore the alkalinity of watercress allows for the reduction of acid levels in the body, which in turn decreases the chances of cancer to develop. What’s more, watercress is also rich in nasturin, which is a phytochemical that is converted by the body into PEITC. PEITC has been proven to be able to hamper the development of several types of cancer, such as breast, prostrate, and colon cancer.
All of these properties make watercress one of the best vegetables you can find. It’s easy to find, easy to grow, and it can be your most potent weapon against sickness.