Watercress can be grown in a pot indoors
Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden
Watercress, Nasturtium officinale, is a well known salad vegetable, though when I was a kid it was mainly used as a garnish – added for decorative purposes and rarely eaten. It’s another plant which has been the subject of attention from the taxonomists. Former latin names which it might be labelled with include: Nasturtium nasturtium-aquaticum, Radicula nasturtium, Radicula nasturtium-aquaticum, Rorippa nasturtium, Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum, Sisymbrium nasturtium and Sisymbrium nasturtium-aquaticum. Other common names which are sometimes used for it include brooklime, brown cress, cresson and true watercress.
Watercress is one of the nine sacred herbs of Wicca.
Despite the latin name, watercress is not related to the flower called nasturtium, but it is closely related to horseradish and is also related to (land) cress and other members of the cabbage family such as broccoli and turnips.
Unfortunately, in many places watercress and a closely related plant often also called watercress (or one-row watercress), Nasturtium microphyllum, have escaped into the wild and being extremely vigorous plants are now regarded as noxious weeds of the waterways. One-row watercress is not useful either medicinally or as food, as the incredibly rich nutrient content of the true watercress is missing.
Even if your area is one in which growing watercress outdoors is prohibited, you can still grow it yourself at home in a pot! You need to stand the pot in a bowl of water which you have to change every day, and this will give it sufficient water for its needs. Pinch out the tops to make it grow bushy. Obviously, if you grow it indoors you can have supplies all year round – and you don’t have to cook it to avoid liver fluke, as you must if you collect from the wild, or anywhere there may be contamination from animals.
If intended for the salad bowl, try not to allow plants to flower, because this makes it bitter. However, if you are collecting seeds you will have to let at least some of the flowers remain.
If you can’t get seeds, it’s easy to grow from cuttings out of a salad bag, just let them sit in water until they are well rooted and then plant them. However, this is only suitable for eating, not remedies, as you may not be getting the true watercress if you do this; a hybrid between this and the one-row watercress (N. x. sterilis) is sometimes grown commercially.
There are a great many medical studies into watercress. One of them shows that it has the highest concentration of bioflavonoids in a comparison with salad rocket, wild rocket and mizuna. Another showed that watercress consumption lowers the (bad) LDL cholesterol and raises the (good) HDL cholesterol in the bloodstream. I can’t keep on listing all the findings, there are too many of them, so I will leave it there.
Watercress also contains high levels of the anti-oxidant vitamins A and C, as well as significant quantities of iron, calcium, potassium and folic acid. It is very low in calories, and makes a great addition to the diet year round, particularly for anyone suffering from anemia
Although it is very good for you, I’ve discovered warnings that watercress should not be used as an internal medicine over a period of more than 4 weeks, and even this should be restricted to every other day. Not suitable for use by pregnant women.
Medicinally, both seeds and leaves are used.
To make a standard infusion, use 3 handfuls of fresh chopped watercress to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water, standing for 15 minutes to 4 hours before straining off and discarding the watercress. The dosage is 125 ml (half a US cup, 4 fl oz) up to 3 times a day.
To make a poultice, mix a quantity of chopped fresh leaves with a little hot water, wrap in a bandage and gently squeeze out excess liquid, then apply to the area to be treated, refreshing in the hot water as required.
A dessertspoonful (2 teaspoons, 12 ml) of seeds eaten on their own on an empty stomach can be used to cleanse the system and will also kill internal parasites.
The leaves can also be used in a standard infusion to cleanse the system, as a diuretic and strong laxative, to lower blood sugar levels, to relieve toothache and as a tonic to strengthen eyes, nerves and heart.
Fresh watercress juice was once used as a treatment for tuberculosis. It is often prescribed for chest complaints, as it is an excellent expectorant. However, it’s important that the juice is always diluted with water before drinking it, as otherwise it can cause inflammation of the throat and stomach. Take 1 teaspoonful in milk or water up to 3 times a day.
Externally, the juice is sometimes used as a hair tonic, which may restore hair growth where the cause of loss was a fungal infection. It’s also used to treat stiffness, rheumatic pain and cramp. You could also use a poultice for these three ailments.
David Conway says that watercress is “a reliable dissolver of all cysts, swellings and tumours [sic]”, for which purpose a poultice of leaves should be used.
As a water plant, it’s even more important to ensure that watercress is grown without the addition of man-made chemicals. To find out more about growing organic watercress visit the Gardenzone.