Watercress is a perennial plant which thrives in clear, cold water and is found in ditches and streams everywhere. Watercress is cultivated for its leaves, which are principally used as salad greens or garnishes. Connected to a creeping rootstock, the hollow, branching stem, 1-2 feet in length, generally extends with its leaves above the water. The smooth, somewhat fleshy, dark green leaves are odd-pinnate with 1-4 pairs of small, oblong or roundish leaflets.
One of the most popular remedies among Chinese residing in Hong Kong and Canton, China is a special watercress soup used to treat canker sores on the tongue or lips, blisters in the mouth, swollen gums, bad teeth and foul breath. There are no specific amounts called for, but generally for one person, about 1/2 lb. each of cut watercress and chopped carrots are cooked in 2 qts. of water. The liquid is boiled down slowly to 1/3 or 1/4 of the original fluid volume and then the soup is consumed with the vegetables intact. It's also good for hot flashes when consumed cold.
Watercress forms the basis of an excellent remedy for headaches brought on by some kind of sickness or general nervousness. A handful of watercress, having been first washed thoroughly, is put into a clean quart fruit jar and 2 cups of boiling apple cider vinegar added. After the solution becomes cold several hours later, it is strained and rebottled for use later on. When the headache occurs, a clean handkerchief or wash cloth should be dipped in the vinegar, wrung out and laid over the eyebrows and forehead.
An old and effective cure for eczema and dermatitis consisted of an infusion of watercress. A large panful should be thoroughly washed and put into a stainless steel saucepan that has just enough cold water added to cover the cress. Bring this to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer slowly until the watercress is quite tender. Strain through muslin cloth or several layers of gauze material and refrigerate.
The afflicted part should be bathed often with this infusion. It's better to use a piece of soft linen for this purpose. This infusion is excellent for roughness of the skin due to frequent exposure to the wind, sun and cold weather.
Watercress tea or juice is valuable for eliminating accumulated fluids in body tissue, such as in gout, and for clearing mucus congestion from the lungs. To make the tea steep 1 tbsp. chopped fresh cress 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.
It took the advent of America's new-style cuisine to elevate the likes of watercress (and other herbs, too) to new esteem. From the humble position of a seldom-eaten garnish to a starring role in much more elaborate culinary preparations, watercress has regained its well-deserved status through a type of cooking that considers your health as much as your palate.
American cooks now use watercress in many ways. Watercress can be found in salads and dressings, herb butters and spreads, sandwiches, soups, and casseroles, where it adds a zippy, pungent flavor. While cooks value watercress for its taste, herbalists value the plant for its nutrients. Watercress contains a substantial supply of vitamins and minerals, including phosphorus, iron, calcium, sulfur, nitrogen, and vitamins A and C.
Watercress is a juicy, vivid green aquatic plant, introduced here from Europe. Watercress grows in every state and throughout Canada in shallow creeks, ditches, along the edges of slow-moving rivers, in ponds, lakes, and brooks-wherever the water is clear, cool, and neither stagnant nor too fast-running. Watercress usually grows where the water is from 2 to 6 inches deep. You can often see large beds of watercress in country streams, its leafy stems protruding several inches above the water's surface.
You can easily bring watercress to your neck of the woods, if it doesn't grow there already. If you don't have a creek or pond, try making a small pool, or 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. Just be 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. This is how watercress survives in nature, as stream beds are constantly being altered by floods and droughts. It is also how watercress spreads so quickly once it is introduced, often traveling in advance of civilization on its way down an undeveloped river system.
The entire watercress plant is used by healers. Harvest it while the plant is flowering and dry it. This pungent, peppery plant can simply be included regularly in the diet. For more specific medical action, an infusion of the dried plant can be taken.
Because of its nutrients, herbalists have used watercress in a tea to tone the liver and cleanse the blood. Watercress is considered diuretic and is thought to aid in breaking up kidney or bladder stones as well. The juice of the fresh leaves has been used to treat acne, eczema, ringworm, rashes, and similar skin irritations and infections.
As the Latin words nasus tortus, or "twisted nose," imply, watercress gives off a pungent odor that makes the nose wrinkle. The leaves and edible seedpods have a sharp, peppery taste, which accounts for watercress's longtime popularity as a salad green.
Watercress has long been known for its medicinal properties. The Greeks and Romans thought it improved the brain, and later, in medieval Europe, it became an ingredient in a salve for sword wounds. Early settlers brought the plant to America chiefly because of its effectiveness in preventing scurvy, for the plant is rich in vitamin C. The Indians adopted watercress as a food and also used it to treat liver and kidney problems.
Rich in mineral salts as well as vitamins C, A, B2, D, and E, watercress was used not only as a scurvy preventive and remedy but as a springtime tonic and appetite stimulant. In various parts of the world it found use in an assortment of ways - as an aphrodisiac, contraceptive, laxative, cough medicine, and asthma remedy, and to clear up the complexion.
Watercress often grows near deadly water hemlocks. Hemlocks are easy to distinguish, however; they are much taller, with leaves divided into narrower, paler green leaflets, and they have umbel-shaped flower clusters.
Watercress is a valuable source of vitamins and a good detoxifying herb. Its high content of vitamin C and minerals makes it a remedy that is particularly valuable for chronic illnesses. The plant is thought to stimulate the appetite and to relieve indigestion, to help in cases of chronic bronchitis (especially where there is excessive mucus production), to be generally stimulating, and to act as a powerful diuretic.
Other medical uses - Glue ear.
HABITAT AND CULTIVATION
Found in temperate regions throughout the world, watercress thrives along or in fresh running water. Although commonly found in the wild, it is also widely cultivated as a salad herb. Watercress is best gathered before it flowers in summer.
Watercress contains vitamins A, B1, B2, C, and E, and minerals (especially iodine, iron, and phosphorus).
The green leaves can be eaten raw: they are depurative, nutritious and revitalizing. They can also be drunk in a freshly squeezed juice prepared in a juice extractor and combined with carrot or beet juice in order to sweeten it. Watercress soup is delicious.
The sap extracted from the crushed plant is used on an infected wound or as a tonic and bleach to lighten brown spots and freckles when directly applied to the face using a cotton pad.
In a poultice (the whole plant, slightly crushed): on abscesses, adenitis or closed cysts to help them heal. In a mother tincture for use in the winter: against fever, fatigue and vitamin deficiency. If there is enough room in your garden, install a watercress bed and allow a gentle stream of water to flow through it. One small planting can provide an invigorating cocktail for years to come.
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