In this post I am going to cover Watercress. Its Latin name is Nasturtium officinale and it is part of the mustard family
Watercress history goes back over three thousand years to the Persians, Greeks and Romans. In the past it has been used as a breath freshener and palate cleanser as well as for its medicinal properties. Apparently Captain Cook included it in his sailors’ diet to combat scurvy and there are rumours that it is an aphrodisiac. But, before you all rush out to get your packet of watercress we better cover some of this lovely green vegetable’s other health benefits.
WHAT IS THE NUTRITIONAL CONTENT OF WATERCRESS?
Like all fresh fruit and vegetables Watercress has generous amounts of Vitamins A, C and E, which of course are fantastic antioxidants and it also contains calcium, folic acid and iron, all nutrients that I have covered before in the blog. Some interesting facts are that watercress contains more iron than spinach, more calcium than milk, has three times as much vitamin E as lettuce and has 150% more folic acid than broccoli.
VITAMIN A: RETINOL; Essential for healthy sight especially at night. It helps cells re-produce normally. It is needed for healthy skin, mucous membranes of the respiratory system, digestive and urinary tracts also bones and tissues. In reproduction it is required for the normal growth and development of the embryo and foetus. It has been shown to influence the function and development of sperm, ovaries and the placenta. As an Anti-oxidant it boosts the Immune System.
VITAMIN C: ASCORBIC ACID; An antioxidant that protects LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) from oxidative damage, leading to hardening of the arteries. May also protect against heart disease reducing the hardening of arteries and the tendency of platelets to clump together blocking them. Vitamin C is necessary to form collagen, which acts like glue strengthening parts of the body such as muscles and blood vessels. It aids with healing and is a natural anti-histamine.It is essential for the action of the Immune system and plays a part in the actions of the white blood cells and anti-bodies. It protects other antioxidants A and E from free radical damage and is involved in the production of some adrenal hormones.
VITAMIN E: TOCOPHEROL; As an antioxidant it protects cell membranes and other fat-soluble parts of the body such as LDL cholesterol from oxidative damage and blood vessels. It can be used topically for skin health and is involved in the reproductive system. It may help prevent circulatory problems that lead to heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease by preventing clots from forming. It improves the pulmonary function of the lungs and enhances the white blood cells ability to resist infection.This makes this little green leafed vegetable worth putting into your salads or cooking as an accompaniment to fish, meat and poultry.
CALCIUM: The most abundant and essential mineral in the body. There are approximately two to three pounds mainly found in the teeth and bones. Apart from its role in the formation of teeth and bones it is also required for blood clotting, transmission of signals in nerve cells and muscle contractions. There is some indication that higher calcium intake protects against cardiovascular disease particularly in women. If you are at risk of kidney stones consult your doctor before taking in additional calcium supplements. This also applies if you are suffering from prostate cancer where there may be a link between increased levels of dietary calcium in dairy products and this form of cancer. It is thought that excess calcium causes lower levels of Vitamin D, which helps protect against prostate cancer.
FOLATE: FOLIC ACID; Folic acid is a B Vitamin essential for cell replication and growth. It helps form the building blocks of DNA the body’s genetic information which is why it is recommended prior to conception and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy to ensure the rapidly growing and replicating cells of the foetus are normal. This helps prevent low birth weight and abnormalities such as Heart defects or lip and palate malformations.It is essential for transporting co-enzymes needed for amino acid metabolism in the body and is necessary for a functioning nervous system.
IRON: The main function of iron is in haemoglobin, which is the oxygen-carrying component of blood. When someone is iron deficient they suffer extreme fatigue because they are being starved of oxygen. Iron is also part of myoglobin which helps muscle cells store oxygen and it is also essential for the formation of ATP.
WHAT ARE ITS HEALTH BENEFITS?
Well apart from obviously providing a great nutritional fix every time you eat it, there are certain illnesses that watercress has been applied to during the centuries. Some of the more common ones are cataracts, coronary heart disease, lung and breast cancers and hormone related cancers.
Eating it regularly along with the other dark green leafy vegetables in a healthy eating programme may help reduce your LDL cholesterol levels, alleviate PMS or menopausal problems, lower blood pressure and also boost your immune system.
Some other older cultures have used watercress extensively since there was no pharmacy around the corner and they make interesting reading.
- The Romans treated insanity with vinegar and watercress (you may have stayed mad but your lips were so puckered you stopped raving) Apparently Roman emperors ate watercress to help them make ‘bold decisions’.
- Eating a bag of watercress is meant to cure a hangover.
- Brazilian researchers found that the extract of watercress appeared to possess anti-tumour properties and it was active against TB.
- Irish monks were said to survive on watercress sandwiches, which may have been because on holy islands there was no supermarket let alone a pharmacy!
- In the 17th century it was used to cleanse the blood (much more pleasant that bloodletting)
- In general watercress has traditionally been considered as a diuretic, expectorant, purgative and stimulant and considered ideal for anaemia, eczema, migraines, toothache, kidney and liver complaints, TB, skin conditions such as warts and of course tumours.
- Popeye loved his Spinach but watercress with its extra iron would have been better, although it does not perhaps sound quite to manly to shout ‘Olive Oyl, where’s me watercress, Bluto’s on me doorstep!”
RECIPES FOR WATERCRESS
It is a lovely fresh flavour used raw in salads. Put a handful in with your lettuce and spinach and it adds another colour to your leaf vegetables.
I use in my green vegetable smoothies -looks awful but with some herbs and a touch of seasoning you get used to the taste – Unfortunately one of the side effects is that I find I am looking longingly at wonderful green, grassy fields as I drive by!!
Wash carefully and then eat in a sandwich with wholemeal bread. In the Second World War, watercress sandwiches and vinegar was a staple supper on Sunday nights. A lovely variation on this is boiled egg and watercress sandwiches.
In the winter months you can use watercress in homemade vegetable soups, either as a raw fresh garnish or added in the final minutes of cooking.
THIS IS A RECIPE FOR WATERCRESS SOUP.
Vegetable Stock about 2 pints
2 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 large bunch of watercress washed and roughly chopped.
1 large onion chopped
2 cloves of garlic chopped.
8oz of natural yoghurt
Salt and pepper to taste.
Combine your potatoes and stock in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Cover and reduce the heat and simmer for about 12 minutes until the potato is tender.
Add the watercress, onions and garlic and bring back to the boil. Cover and remove from the heat and let it stand for about 5 minutes. Puree the soup in a blender, stir in the yoghurt and seasoning to taste. Chill in the fridge before serving.
Hope you enjoyed the post and also including more watercress in your diet. thanks for dropping by.. Sally