What is Watercress?

Watercress is an aquatic plant grown along stream banks. It small green leaves have a sharp, pungent, peppery flavour. Watercress is used as a garnish as well as in salads. However, it is very perishable. Purchase it only if it looks very green and fresh.

Cool running water is the growing ground for this member of the mustard family, which can often be found in the wild in and around streams and brooks. Watercress has small, crisp, dark green leaves. Its pungent flavour is slightly bitter and has a peppery snap. Watercress is available year-round and is customarily sold in small bouquets. Choose crisp leaves with deep, vibrant colour. There should be no sign of yellowing or wilting. Refrigerate in a plastic bag (or stems-down in a glass of water covered with a plastic bag) for up to 5 days. Wash and shake dry just before using. Watercress may be used in salads, sandwiches, soups and a variety of cooked dishes. It’s also a popular garnish, fast replacing the ubiquitous parsley.

Water-cress is a hardy, perennial, European herb (Nasturtium officinale) which grows naturally in wet soil along and in spring brooks, ditches and pond margins and is cultivated under such condition for use as a garnish and a piquant salad. It must be harvested before flower buds appear or the leaves become too rank in flavour to be edible. There are many types of cress such as Garden Cress or Pepper-grass (Lepidium sativum), Upland or Winter cress (Barbarea vernapraecox) , Bitter-cress (Cardamine pratensis), Indian-cress (another name for nasturtium) or Tropaeolum majus, Penny cress or species of Thlaspi, rock-cress or species of Arabis, Stone-cress or genus Aethionema and Wart-cress or species of Coronopus.

Store watercress in the refrigerator with its stems in water and the leaves loosely covered with a plastic bag. Most Westerners eat watercress raw. In the East it is blanched, the moisture wrung out and then chopped and tossed with a light sesame oil dressing. Chinese often stir fry it with a little salt, sugar, and wine or use it in soups.

Per 80g Portion of Watercress

(Figures in brackets are the % of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for that nutrient – no figures, means there is no RDA for that nutrient)

Calories (kcal) 18
Protein (g) 2.4
Fat (g) 0.8
Fibre (g) 1.2
Beta-carotene (mcg) 2016
Vitamin A equivalent (mcg) 336 (42%)
Vitamin B1 (mg) 0.13 (9%)
Vitamin B6 (mg) 0.18 (9%)
Vitamin C (mg) 50 (83%)
Vitamin E (mg) 1.17 (12%)
Folate (mcg) 36 (18%)
Vitamin K (mcg)* 200
Calcium (mg) 136 (17%)
Iodine (mcg) 12 (8%)**
Iron (mg) 1.8 (13%)
Magnesium (mg) 12 (4%)
Manganese (mg) 0.5
Phosphorus (mg) 42 (5%)
Potassium (mg) 184
Zinc (mg) 0.6 (4%)
Lutein and Zeaxanthin (mcg)* 4614

Data Source: Food Standards Agency (2002) McCance & Widdowson’s The Composition of Foods, 6th Summary Edition. Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry.

* U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 19, 2006.

** Direct Laboratories analysis of watercress, 2006.