Watercress belonging to the leaf vegetable family is basically an aquatic or semi aquatic plant variety found in Asia and Europe. It is related to plants such as wasabi, radish and mustard and is known to possess a strong smell with a pleasant but sharp taste. It grows mostly in alkaline water and can be grown in garden as well as in large scale for commercial purposes. As it cannot be used once it loses its freshness, demand for watercress is high in the markets it is sold. It is also sold in the sprout form, but loses its pleasant taste and becomes bitter when the plant begins to produce flowers. Though it contains all the nutrients a leafy vegetable provides, it is not as famous as its counterparts like cabbage or mustard greens. With small, round leaves and bearing white flowers, watercress is consumed as food and also utilized as medicine due to its nutritional properties.
Watercress is packed with high levels of essential minerals and vitamins such as calcium, iron, folic acid, iodine and manganese, Vitamin A, C, K and B6. It also provides considerable level of omega-3 fatty acids in the form of hexadecatrienoic acid present in them. Apart from these essential nutrients, watercress also provides significant level of antioxidants, flavanoids and carotenoids necessary for the body.
Watercress is best eaten raw and hence used generally in salads and sandwiches. It is also steam cooked and used as a side dish or added in soups due to its tangy flavor. As it is packed with so many essential nutrients, it is also used as a natural medicine for treating innumerable ailments. The edible portion of the plant is the part that grows above the water surface and used for food and medicines.
It is said that Hippocrates founded his first hospital on the Kos Island near a stream to make sure that fresh watercress is readily available for treating his patients. Fifteen essentials minerals and vitamins are claimed to be present in watercress. It is known to contain more level of calcium than the levels found in milk, more level of Vitamin C than in oranges and more iron content than the level found in spinach. It has also low level of calories. Let us now see the role watercress plays in treating various health problems.
- Vitamin K which is found in abundance in watercress helps in the formation and strengthening of bones and to treat problems relating to bones and maintain general bone health.
- It treats the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease by limiting the neuronal damage that is caused to the brain.
- High concentration of Vitamin C in watercress makes it an ideal natural medicine for treating fever, flu, viral infections and also boosting the immune system by enabling it to fight the attack of bacteria and viruses. It is also used in treating Scurvy which causes anemia, edema and fatigue due to lack of Vitamin C in the system.
- Problems relating to eyes are treated with medicines containing Vitamin A and watercress with its abundant source of Vitamin A is the ideal natural healer in protecting our eyes from blindness and infections.
- Watercress is used as a diuretic to increase the flow of urine and in turn get rid of the toxic elements present in the body.
- Watercress has high level of antioxidants that is known to treat cancer. It helps to lessen the risk of lung, breast, mouth, prostate and colon cancers and avoid the spread of cancer by preventing the damage of DNA in cells.
- It aids in maintaining good cardiovascular health.
- It acts as an expectorant and soothes the throat with its peppery flavor and also reduces cough. It is also used in the treatment of swine flu and bronchitis.
- It is known to purify the blood system and treat anemia with the help of its high iron content level.
- Applying watercress as a paste on the skin is known to cure scabies, warts, skin eczema and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Watercress maintains a healthy digestive system and improves the appetite.
- It maintains the blood pressure level.
- It is used to treat gum bleeding and make the teeth strong.
- Watercress has high iodine content which helps in the prevention of goiter and is found to lessen the problems related to thyroid glands.
- Baldness, hair loss and dandruff can be treated by applying the paste of watercress on the scalp.
As watercress is potentially beneficial when taken raw, care should be taken to rinse and clean it well and get rid of the waterborne parasites and bacteria before eating it.
A physician’s advice is essential before consuming watercress as it might not be suitable to persons suffering from certain ailments like hyperthyroidism and bladder inflammation.