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Nasturtium officinale - R.Br.

Common Name Watercress
Family Brassicaceae or Cruciferae
USDA hardiness 3-11
Known Hazards Whilst the plant is very wholesome and nutritious, some care should be taken if harvesting it from the wild. Any plants growing in water that drains from fields where animals, particularly sheep, graze should not be used raw. This is due to the risk of it being infested with the liver fluke parasite[5, 244]. Cooking the leaves, however, will destroy any parasites and render the plant perfectly safe to eat[244]. May inhibit the metabolism of paracetamol [301].
Habitats Stream margins, ditches, flushes etc with moving water[17, 27], usually in chalk or limestone areas[52].
Range Europe, including Britain, from Sweden and Denmark south and east to N. Africa and W. Asia.
Edibility Rating  
Other Uses  
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating  
Care
Fully Hardy Wet Soil Water Plants Full sun
Nasturtium officinale Watercress


Nasturtium officinale Watercress

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Summary

Bloom Color: White. Main Bloom Time: Early summer, Late spring, Mid spring. Form: Spreading or horizontal, Variable spread.


Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Nasturtium officinale is a PERENNIAL growing to 0.5 m (1ft 8in) by 1 m (3ft 3in) at a fast rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 6 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from May to October, and the seeds ripen from Jul to October. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, flies, self.The plant is self-fertile.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers wet soil and can grow in water.

Synonyms

Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum. (L.)Hayek. Sisymbrium nasturtium-aquaticum.

Habitats

 Pond; Bog Garden;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Leaves;  Seed.
Edible Uses: Condiment.

Leaves - raw or cooked[2, 5, 7, 9, 16, 27]. Water cress is mainly used as a garnish or as an addition to salads, the flavour is strong with a characteristic hotness[183]. It has a reputation as a spring tonic, and this is its main season of use, though it can be harvested for most of the year and can give 10 pickings annually[238]. Some caution is advised if gathering the plant from the wild, see the notes above on toxicity. The leaves are exceptionally rich in vitamins and minerals, especially iron[200]. A nutritional analysis is available[218]. The seed can be sprouted and eaten in salads[183]. A hot mustardy flavour[K]. The seed is ground into a powder and used as a mustard[46, 183]. The pungency of mustard develops when cold water is added to the ground-up seed - an enzyme (myrosin) acts on a glycoside (sinigrin) to produce a sulphur compound. The reaction takes 10 - 15 minutes. Mixing with hot water or vinegar, or adding salt, inhibits the enzyme and produces a mild but bitter mustard[238].

Composition
Figures in grams (g) or miligrams (mg) per 100g of food.
Leaves (Fresh weight)
  • 19 Calories per 100g
  • Water : 93.3%
  • Protein: 2.2g; Fat: 0.3g; Carbohydrate: 3g; Fibre: 0.7g; Ash: 1.2g;
  • Minerals - Calcium: 151mg; Phosphorus: 54mg; Iron: 1.7mg; Magnesium: 0mg; Sodium: 52mg; Potassium: 282mg; Zinc: 0mg;
  • Vitamins - A: 2940mg; Thiamine (B1): 0.08mg; Riboflavin (B2): 0.16mg; Niacin: 0.9mg; B6: 0mg; C: 79mg;
  • Reference: [ 218]
  • Notes:

Medicinal Uses



Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Antirheumatic;  Antiscorbutic;  Appetizer;  Depurative;  Diuretic;  Expectorant;  Hypoglycaemic;  Miscellany;  
Odontalgic;  Purgative;  Stimulant;  Stomachic;  TB.

Watercress is very rich in vitamins and minerals, and has long been valued as a food and medicinal plant[254]. Considered a cleansing herb, its high content of vitamin C makes it a remedy that is particularly valuable for chronic illnesses[254]. The leaves are antiscorbutic, depurative, diuretic, expectorant, purgative, hypoglycaemic, odontalgic, stimulant and stomachic[4, 7, 9, 21, 46, 222, 238]. The plant has been used as a specific in the treatment of TB[4]. The freshly pressed juice has been used internally and externally in the treatment of chest and kidney complaints, chronic irritations and inflammations of the skin etc[9]. Applied externally, it has a long-standing reputation as an effective hair tonic, helping to promote the growth of thick hair[244]. A poultice of the leaves is said to be an effective treatment for healing glandular tumours or lymphatic swellings[244]. Some caution is advised, excessive use of the plant can lead to stomach upsets[9, 21]. The leaves can be harvested almost throughout the year and are used fresh[238].

Other Uses

Hair;  Miscellany.

The juice of the plant is a nicotine solvent and is used as such on strong tobaccos[7].

Cultivation details

Landscape Uses:Container. Watercress is easily grown when given the correct conditions of slowly flowing clean water, preferably coming from chalky or limestone soils[264]. It prefers to grow in water about 5cm deep[37] with an optimum pH 7.2[200]. Plants can be grown in wet soil if the position is somewhat shaded and protection is given in winter, though the flavour may be hotter[27, 37]. Hardy to about -15°c[200]. Watercress is often cultivated for its edible leaves, there are some named varieties[16, 183]. The plant is very sensitive to pollution so a clean source of water is required[200]. Plants will often continue to grow all through mild winters. A fast-growing plant, the stems trail along the ground or float in water and produce new roots at the leaf nodes, thus making the plant very easy to propagate vegetatively[238]. Unfortunately, virus diseases have become more common in cultivated plants and so most propagation is carried out by seed[264]. This is a diploid species. It has hybridised naturally in the wild with the triploid species N. microphyllum to produce the sterile hybrid N. x sterilis which is also commonly cultivated as a salad crop[264]. The flowers are a rich source of pollen and so are very attractive to bees[7]. Special Features: Attractive foliage, Edible, Not North American native, Wetlands plant, Flower characteristics are unknown.

Propagation

Seed - sow spring in a pot emmersed to half its depth in water. Germination should take place within a couple of weeks. Prick out seedlings into individual pots whilst they are still small and increase the depth of water gradually until they are submerged. Plant out into a pond in the summer. Cuttings can be taken at any time in the growing season. Virtually any part of the plant, including a single leaf, will form roots if detached from the parent plant[56]. Just put it in a container of water until the roots are well formed and then plant out in shallow water.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameEdibility RatingMedicinal Rating
Nasturtium microphyllumWatercress, Onerow yellowcress31
Nasturtium x sterileBrown Watercress43
Tropaeolum majusNasturtium, Indian Cress43
Tropaeolum minusDwarf Nasturtium43

 

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Expert comment

Author

R.Br.

Botanical References

17200

Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here

Readers comment

Miranda Hodgson   Mon May 16 12:22:20 2005

If you want to grow this in your garden pond, get some from the salad section of a supermarket. Put it in a dish of water and it will root in about a week, then lodge the rooted stems under stones around the water's edge. It will spread and flower quickly.

david (volunteer)   Tue Jul 21 2009

Watercress is Nasturtium officinale while Land Cress or American cress is Barbarea verna, a completely different plant with a similar flavor but different cultivation needs, there is info on it in this database

Scott   Tue Jan 30 2007

Looking at some in depth information regarding flukes, leads me to further questioning of the planting/harvesting site. Various types of animal dung need to be taken into consideration when selecting a harvest site.

Penny Munn   Mon Jul 20 2009

Does anybody know what difference there is (if any) between watercress and American Land cress? The seed catalogues will only commit themselves to comments such as 'tastes similar' but given the extensive herbal uses of watercress, it would be useful to know whether the more easily grown Land Cress can really be substituted for it.

   Aug 22 2014 12:00AM

Regarding liver flukes: I have been researching this issue for myself and here's some of what I've found. Flukes are trematodes. As adults they reside in the bile ducts of mammals, from where they disperse eggs into the host's feces. The eggs are consumed by snails, in whose bodies they hatch into larvae and further reproduce. The larvae leave the snail and form into cysts called metacercariae. These float on water until they attach to grass, watercress, etc. The cysts are what infect new mammalian hosts, not the eggs. If the manure source has not been exposed to snails then there's probably no way to catch liver flukes from it. However if the dung has been collected from places with damp grass then it's quite possible that it could pick up cysts from the ground. Fasciola hepatica only infects mammals (unlike other flukes), so any bird guano should be safe, assuming it's not collected from a place with snails. Bat guano is probably safe as well. There do not appear to be any studies about the heat at which the cysts die, but a couple of papers say that they tend to die off during summers in Florida and Texas. That would imply that composting temperatures are sufficient to kill cysts. Radiation is very effective at killing them, but that's not practical for most of us. One source says freezing kills the cysts, but it doesn't give specifics. Several sources suggest soaking watercress to be eaten raw in 4% potassium permanganate, and one source also suggests 10% vinegar for 10 minutes. All sources recommend thorough washing, but none that I've seen review the effectiveness of plain water washing, or discuss how the cysts adhere to the plants. Liver flukes are a worldwide problem and human infections are common in Third World countries, particularly SE Asia. 100% of the inhabitants of some towns were infected in Bolivia. The flukes are found in cattle across the United States (78% of tested cattle in Florida were found to be infected) and there are occasional infections in humans. Annual doses of medication appear to be sufficient to eradicate flukes from a pasture. Someone suggests that geese are excellent snail hunters but I would not count on them alone.

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