There’s a vegetable out there so good for you that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies it as a “powerhouse” vegetable. I’m talking about watercress.
This cousin of kale has a long history as a deliciously nutritious herb and as a natural remedy for many ailments — and you’re probably most familiar with its use in salads, on sandwiches and as a lightly steamed side dish. So why, specifically, does the CDC consider it such a healthy food? For starters, this cruciferous vegetable is strongly related to the reduced risk and onset of chronic diseases, and that’s not all. (1)
Benefits of Watercress
1. May Help Reduce the Risk of Colon Cancer
As a leafy green vegetable and cruciferous veggie, watercress is on the list of cancer-fighting foods. This is because it’s rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes, yet very low in calories, fats, sodium and other toxins.
A study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that isothiocyanates (ITC), which are compounds found primarily in cruciferous vegetables, have been shown in laboratory studies to possess anticarcinogenic activity due to the enzymes found within them. In the study, volunteers were examined after the consumption of both cooked and uncooked watercress, which contains glucosinolates.
Researchers discovered the cooked watercress helped convert the glucosinolates to useful ITCs, providing the anticarcinogenic benefits, helping reduce the risk of colon cancer. Further studies have noted that these compounds, when broken down, may help protect cells from DNA damage by inactivating carcinogens. (2, 3) These findings suggest this vegetable, along with other cruciferous veggies, may prevent and fight other forms of cancer as well. (4)
2. Contains Useful Omega 3s
We know that omega-3 foods include fish like salmon, but did you know that that by eating some leafy greens you can also get the numerous health benefits of omegas-3s? It’s true.
While watercress contains useful vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, such as vitamin C, folate and antioxidants, it also contains a relatively high proportion of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), mainly in the form of alpha-linolenic acid.
A study was conducted by the Department of Food Science at RMIT University to help determine the fatty acid content of 11 green vegetables that are commonly available in Australia. The total fatty acid concentrations of the vegetables under study ranged from 44 milligrams per 100 grams wet weight in Chinese cabbage to 372 milligrams per 100 grams in watercress. There were three PUFAs in all vegetables analyzed, with watercress, mint and parsley containing the highest amounts. The consumption of green vegetables could contribute to healthy omega-3s, especially for vegans and vegetarians. (5)
3. Provides Beneficial Anti-inflammatory Effects
Cruciferous vegetables are anti-inflammatory foods that contain antiviral and antibacterial effects that can help reduce inflammation. Research published in Pharmaceutical Biology showed that when given watercress extract, subjects had a decrease in swelling and tissue damage. (6)
Because watercress is a plant that’s very nutritious — thanks to nutrients like beta-carotene, vitamin A, ascorbic acid, vitamin C, calcium, folic acid, iodine, phosphorous and amino acids, among others — it can help reduce swollen breathing passages in the lungs and treat coughs, bronchitis, flu and swine flu. It was even suggested as a remedy for scurvy at one time.
4. Lowers Blood Pressure
Calcium, magnesium and potassium minerals are thought to bring blood pressure down by releasing sodium out of the body and helping arteries dilate. While you can take these minerals in supplement form, it simply won’t provide the same health benefits as when they’re consumed in food.
Since watercress is a calcium-rich food that contains these useful minerals, it may help lower blood pressure. According to a recent study conducted by the King’s College London British Heart Foundation Centre, watercress and similar foods have been shown to have vascular benefits, such as reducing blood pressure, inhibiting platelet aggregation, and preserving or improving endothelial dysfunction. This suggests that a diet rich in nutrient-filled fruits and vegetables is a wise choice to help maintain healthy blood pressure. (7)
5. Supports Healthy Skin, Hair and Nails
Our bodies thrive on the phytonutrients found in green foods like watercress. Containing vitamins A, C, E, K and B vitamins, it’s no surprise that when eating leafy greens, you’re likely to have amazing hair, nails and a clearer complexion. Green superfoods contain a lots of calcium, magnesium and potassium — minerals that are crucial to the health of your hair, nails and skin. Their water-rich characteristic adds to the hydration of your body and a healthy alkaline environment, which can help clear out toxins too. (8)
6. Strengthens Bones and Teeth
We were raised to think that calcium only comes from dairy products, but leafy greens provide a substantial amount of calcium for us and more! Because watercress contains calcium, manganese, magnesium as well as vitamins A, C and vitamin K, it can help you maintain strong, healthy bones.
We know that calcium helps prevent osteoporosis, which is a disease caused by a deficiency in calcium and can cause gradual loss in bone density, also known as osteopenia, increasing the risk of fractures. Calcium and vitamin K can help eliminate this worry by providing support for strong, healthy bones as well as your teeth.
One cup of chopped, raw watercress contains about: (9)
- 4 calories
- 0.4 gram carbohydrates
- 0.8 gram protein
- 0.2 gram fiber
- 85 micrograms vitamin K (106 percent DV)
- 14.6 milligrams vitamin C (24 percent DV)
- 1,085 IU vitamin A (22 percent DV)
- 40.8 milligrams calcium (4 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram manganese (4 percent DV)
This 34-gram serving also contains 7.8 milligrams omega-3 fatty acids and 4.1 milligrams omega-6 fatty acids.
Watercress vs. Kale
Both watercress and kale are powerhouses when it comes to nutrition. In fact, it’s been reported that watercress had a high nutrition score next to five others vegetables in this elite powerhouse category, notably Chinese cabbage, chard, beet greens, spinach and chicory root.
Though kale may still reign as one of the highest in terms of nutrients, watercress upholds the No. 1 spot as an excellent healthy choice. It even ranks higher by researchers, earning a 100 as compared to kale coming in at 49.07. (10)
Here’s how these two veggies measure up: (11)
- People who consumed 85 grams per day had higher amounts of antioxidants and reduce levels of DNA damage
- Lower in calories
- A bit lower in nutrients than kale
- Vitamin K is good for blood clotting
- Vitamin A improves immune function and vision
- Vitamin C heals wounds and forms collagen
- High in calcium, which is essential for muscle and nerve function along with strong bones and teeth
- A cup of chopped kale weighs about twice as much as a cup of watercress
- Contains 34 calories, 2.2 grams of protein, 6.7 grams of carbohydrates and 0.5 gram of fat
- Kale has the highest vitamin K content, with a cup serving providing 684 percent of the daily value for vitamin K
- Contains vitamins A and C
- Folate helps create new cells and, in pregnant women, prevents neural tube birth defects.
- Its iron content is necessary for forming the red blood cells that transport oxygen throughout your body
- Contains magnesium, which is important for immune function, keeping your heartbeat steady and regulating blood sugar levels
History of Watercress
Typically cultivated in pure spring water, watercress has been labeled as a superfood for centuries. Hippocrates was known to locate his first hospital near a stream, where watercress grows best, so patients could be treated with it, and Greek soldiers were given watercress as a blood-cleansing tonic before going into battle. With its tangy, peppery powerhouse of nutrients, watercress, also known as berro in Spanish, is a great choice for many dishes, such as soups, casseroles and salads.
In the 1800s, watercress sandwiches were a staple of the working-class diet as the most historic salad leaf of the U.K. It was most often eaten for breakfast as a watercress sandwich in Hampshire and Dorset, mostly because it was easily accessible and could be picked free from rivers and streams, where it grew wild. If people were too poor to buy bread for their sandwiches, they ate it on its own, making it known as the “poor man’s bread.”
Traditionally grown watercress (Nasturtium officianale) is green and has a distinctive peppery, mustard-like flavor. It became known as a commercial crop in England around 1808 and is an indigenous plant known for its nutritional value since Roman times. In 1865, the Georgian town of Arlesford became the center of the watercress industry and so popular that a railway line, named the Watercress Line, was established as a route to London.
The health benefits became evident, making it in great demand and ultimately leading to commercial watercress farms throughout Hampshire. Unfortunately, during the 1960s the Watercress Railway Line was closed, leaving the roadways as the only option for transporting it, and with that added difficulty, 90 percent of growers left the industry by the 1980s.
The heritage railway, still known as the Watercress Line, that runs from New Alresford to Alton, now features a footbridge at London’s King’s Cross station that was in the Harry Potter films. (13, 14)
Watercress is a perennial that grows naturally along running waterways, thriving in both the sun and water. This leafy green has a preferred pH range of 6.5 to 7.5 and does especially well in varying soil conditions as long as the soils stay saturated with water. You can even grow your own if you happen to have a water feature in your garden. No water feature? No worries, as you can also grow it in a pot or bucket by simulating the saturated conditions it requires.
The leaves and shoots are cultivated for their culinary and medicinal uses. While the flavor is best during the cooler parts of the year, watercress can withstand harvest throughout the winter. However, once it blooms, the flavor of watercress typically decreases.
Watercress Recipes and Uses
Watercress is spicier than spinach, given its mustard background. It’s great in salads either alone or as a blend with other greens. Watercress is a delicious touch to sandwiches or can be pureed and added to soups for a touch of spice. It even goes well with melon, such as cantaloupe, nuts, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, leeks and corn.
Try this watercress recipe as a start
Fig and Cantaloupe Salad with Watercress and Balsamic Mint Glaze and Walnuts (serves four to six)
- 4 ounces balsamic vinegar
- 1 ounce of water
- 2 tablespoon maple syrup
- 2 Medjool dates, chopped
- 8 sprigs fresh mint
- Pinch of sea salt
- 1 cantaloupe cut into 1/2 inch chunks
- 8 figs, stems removed and cut in quarters
- 1 bunch of watercress
- Fresh basil, finely chopped
- Sea salt and black pepper to taste
- Place all dressing ingredients in a high-powered blender. Blend until smooth.
- Pour into a sauce pot over medium heat. Allow it to come to a gentle boil, stirring frequently as it heats up.
- Allow it to thicken, occasionally stirring.
- When the balsamic glaze has a somewhat syrupy consistency, remove the pot from the burner, set aside and allow it to cool.
- Gently blend the watercress and basil in a bowl.
- On salad plates, arrange the watercress and basil mixture and top with pieces of cantaloupe.
- Drizzle with the cooled balsamic glaze.
- Next, place the figs and top with the walnuts.
- Drizzle with a little more balsamic glaze.
- Add a pinch of sea salt and pepper, and you’re ready to serve.
Watercress is safe for most when used short term. When used in large amounts or long term, it may cause an upset stomach or kidney problems.
Watercress is is noted as unsafe for use as a medicine in children, in particular in those younger than the age of 4. Check with your doctor before using watercress if you’re pregnant or breast-feeding. It’s also not recommended that you use watercress if you have stomach or intestinal ulcers.
Final Thoughts on Watercress
Watercress is considered the No. 1 powerhouse vegetable due to its disease-fighting abilities. Its benefits include reducing the risk of colon cancer and fighting other cancers as well; providing useful omega-3 fats; possessing beneficial anti-inflammatory effects; lowering blood pressure; improving skin, hair and nail health; and strengthening bones and teeth.
So if you’re looking for the ultimate healing food, look no further than this amazing, powerful healing food.
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