Watercress is a fast-growing, edible member of the family Brassicaceae (formerly Cruciferae), or the mustard family. Watercress was formerly assigned the systematic name Nasturtium officinale (though it is unrelated to the Nasturtium flowers of family Tropaeolaceae). However it is now classified as Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum. Watercress is botanically related to the garden cress and to mustard plants, from which these cress obtain their peppery, tangy flavor and aroma. Watercress produces small, white and green flowers in horizontal clusters.
Watercress is a semi-aquatic perennial, and is one of the oldest known green vegetables consumed by human beings. Watercress is found to contain significant amounts of iron, calcium and folic acid, in addition to vitamins A and C. In some regions watercress is known as a weed, in other regions as an aquatic vegetable or herb. Where watercress is grown in the presence of animal waste, it is a known haven for parasites such as the liver fluke.
Watercress in Agriculture
Cultivation of watercress is practical on both mass scales and on the individual scale. Being semi-aquatic, watercress is well-suited to hydroponic cultivation and thrives in water that is slightly alkaline. In many local markets the demand for hydroponically-grown watercress far exceeds available supply. This is due in part to the fact that cress leaves are unsuitable for distribution in dried form, and thus can only marginally be preserved. Unmolested watercress can grow to a height of two feet, however, the edible shoots are typically harvested just days after germination.
Benefits of Consuming Watercress
Many benefits of eating watercress are claimed. Watercress is claimed to be a mild stimulant, a source of phytochemicals and antioxidants, a diuretic, an expectorant and a digestive.