Nasturtium officinale
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Brassicales
Family: Brassicaceae
Genus: Nasturtium

See text.

Watercresses (Nasturtium officinale, N. microphyllum; formerly Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum, R. microphylla) are fast-growing, aquatic or semi-aquatic, perennial plants native from Europe to central Asia, and one of the oldest known leaf vegetables consumed by human beings. These plants are members of the Family Brassicaceae or cabbage family, botanically related to garden cress, mustard and radish — all noteworthy for a peppery, tangy flavour.

The hollow stems of watercress are floating, and the leaves are pinnately compound. Watercresses produce small, white and green flowers in clusters.

Nasturtium nasturtium-aquaticum (nomenclaturally invalid) and Sisymbrium nasturtium-aquaticum L. are synonyms of N. officinale. Nasturtium officinale var microphyllum (Boenn. ex Reich.) Thellung is a synonym of N. microphyllum (ITIS, 2004). These species are also listed in some sources as belonging to the genus Rorippa, although molecular evidence shows the aquatic species with hollow stems are more closely related to Cardamine than Rorippa.[1] Watercresses are not closely related to the flowers in the genus Tropaeolum (Family Tropaeolaceae), popularly known as "nasturtiums".


Health benefits and cancer defense

Watercress, raw
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 11 kJ (2.6 kcal)
Carbohydrates 1.29 g
- Sugars 0.20 g
- Dietary fibre 0.5 g
Protein 2.30 g
Vitamin A equiv. 160 μg (20%)
- beta-carotene 1914 μg (18%)
- lutein and zeaxanthin 5767 μg
Folate (vit. B9) 9 μg (2%)
Vitamin C 43.0 mg (52%)
Iron 0.20 mg (2%)
Percentages are relative to US recommendations for adults.

Watercress contains significant amounts of iron, calcium and folic acid, in addition to vitamins A and C.[2][3] In some regions, watercress is regarded as a weed, in other regions as an aquatic vegetable or herb. Watercress crops grown in the presence of manure can be a haven for parasites such as the liver fluke Fasciola hepatica.[4]

Many benefits from eating watercress are claimed, such as that it acts as a stimulant, a source of phytochemicals and antioxidants, a diuretic, an expectorant, and a digestive aid.[5] It also appears to have antiangiogenic cancer-suppressing properties; it is widely believed to help defend against lung cancer.[6][7][8][9] A 2010 study conducted by the University of Southampton found that consumption of watercress may also inhibit the growth of breast cancer.[10] The PEITC content of watercress inhibits HIF, which can inhibit angiogenesis.

Due to its high iodine content, watercress has a strengthening effect on the thyroid gland, thus it is beneficial for sufferers of hypothyroidism.

In addition, watercress is a known inhibitor of the cytochrome P450 CYP2E1, which may result in altered drug metabolism for individuals on certain medications (e.g., chlorzoxazone).[11]

Watercress cultivation

Watercress beds in Warnford, Hampshire

Cultivation of watercress is practical on both a large scale and a garden scale. Being semi-aquatic, watercress is well-suited to hydroponic cultivation, thriving best in water that is slightly alkaline. It is frequently produced around the headwaters of chalk streams. In many local markets, the demand for hydroponically grown watercress exceeds supply. This is because, in part, cress leaves are unsuitable for distribution in dried form, and can only be stored for a short period.

However (in the UK at least), the packaging used by supermarkets using sealed plastic bags under some internal pressure (a plastic envelope containing moisture and pressurised (inflated) to prevent crushing of contents) has allowed the distribution of watercress. This has allowed national availability with a once-purchased storage life of one to two days in chilled/refrigerated storage.

If unharvested, watercress can grow to a height of 50–120 cm. Also sold as sprouts, the edible shoots are harvested days after germination.

Like many plants in this family, the foliage of watercress becomes bitter when the plants begin producing flowers.

New Market, Alabama, was once known (in the 1940s) as the "Watercress Capital of the World"[12] in America.

Watercress is often used in sandwiches, such as those made for afternoon tea.

Watercress is grown in a number of counties of the UK, most notably Hertfordshire, Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorset, although the first commercial cultivation was along the River Ebbsfleet in Kent grown by William Bradbery (horticulturist) in 1808. Alresford, near Winchester, is often considered the watercress capital of Britain (to the extent that a steam railway line is named after the famous local crop). In recent years, watercress has become more widely available in the UK, at least in the South-East, being stocked pre-packed in some supermarkets, as well as fresh by the bunch at farmers' markets and greengrocers. Value-added products, such as the traditional watercress soup and pesto, are increasingly easy to source.

See also

  • Fools watercress - Apium nodiflorum


  1. ^ Al-Shehbaz I, Price RA (June 1998). "Delimitation of the genus Nasturtium (Brassicaceae)". Novon 8 (2): 124–6. doi:10.2307/3391978. JSTOR 3391978. 
  2. ^ "Watercress nutritional analysis". http://www.watercress.co.uk/health/chart.shtml. Retrieved Nov 01 2009. 
  3. ^ "Watercress, FoodRecipe.ORG". http://foodrecipe.org/watercress.html. Retrieved Nov 01 2009. 
  4. ^ CDC Parasites & Health: Fascioliasis
  5. ^ Watercress soup and the health benefits of watercress
  6. ^ Hecht SS, Chung FL, Richie JP, et al. (1 December 1995). "Effects of watercress consumption on metabolism of a tobacco-specific lung carcinogen in smokers". Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 4 (8): 877–84. PMID 8634661. http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/cgi/pmidlookup?view=long&pmid=8634661. 
  7. ^ Medical News TODAY - Compounds in broccoli, cauliflower, and watercress block lung cancer progression
  8. ^ Times Online - Eating raw watercress every day may reduce risk of cancer
  9. ^ Hecht SS, Carmella SG, Murphy SE (1 October 1999). "Effects of watercress consumption on urinary metabolites of nicotine in smokers". Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 8 (10): 907–13. PMID 10548320. http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/cgi/pmidlookup?view=long&pmid=10548320. 
  10. ^ Science Daily - Watercress May 'Turn Off' Breast Cancer Signal
  11. ^ Leclercq I, Desager JP, Horsmans Y (August 1998). "Inhibition of chlorzoxazone metabolism, a clinical probe for CYP2E1, by a single ingestion of watercress". Clin Pharmacol Ther. 64 (2): 144–9. doi:10.1016/S0009-9236(98)90147-3. PMID 9728894. 
  12. ^ Huntsville's Missile Payload

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • watercress — also water cress, c.1400, from WATER (Cf. water) (n.1) + CRESS (Cf. cress). Cf. M.L.G., M.Du. waterkerse, Ger. wasserkresse. It grows in or near streams …   Etymology dictionary

  • watercress — ► NOUN ▪ a cress which grows in running water and whose pungent leaves are used in salad …   English terms dictionary

  • watercress — [wôt′ərkres΄, wät′ərkres΄] n. [ME watercresse: see WATER & CRESS] a white flowered plant (Nasturtium officinale) of the crucifer family, growing generally in running water, as from springs: its leaves are used in salads, soups, etc …   English World dictionary

  • watercress — /waw teuhr kres , wot euhr /, n. 1. a cress, Nasturtium officinale, of the mustard family, usually growing in clear, running streams and having pungent leaves. 2. the leaves, used for salads, soups, and as a garnish. [1300 50; ME; c. MD, MLG… …   Universalium

  • watercress — noun Date: 14th century 1. any of several aquatic or semiaquatic cresses; especially a perennial cress (Nasturtium officinale) native to Europe and southwestern Asia that is naturalized in the United States and has leaves used especially in… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • watercress — wa|ter|cress [ˈwo:təkres US ˈwo:tər , ˈwa: ] n [U] a small green plant with strong tasting leaves that grows in water ▪ a bunch of watercress …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • watercress — [[t]wɔ͟ːtə(r)kres[/t]] N UNCOUNT Watercress is a small plant with white flowers which grows in streams and pools. Its leaves taste hot and are eaten raw in salads …   English dictionary

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  • Watercress Line — Mid Hants Railway 60163 Tornado climbing the bank heading towards Ropley during the Spring Steam Gala i …   Wikipedia

  • Watercress Darter National Wildlife Refuge — Infobox protected area | name = Watercress Darter National Wildlife Refuge iucn category = IV caption = locator x = 195 locator y = 123 location = Jefferson County, Alabama, USA nearest city = Bessemer, Alabama lat degrees = 33 lat minutes = 22… …   Wikipedia

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