FACTS & FOLKLORE
It has one of the most ancient and revered leafy green vegetables known to man, and its use can be traced back more than 3 millennia, to the Persians, Greeks and Romans.
Up to the renaissance, this spunky member of the mustard family was esteemed as a breath freshener and palate cleanser, as well as for medical purposes.
According to the book 'James Cook and the Conquest of Scurvy', Captain James Cook was able to circumnavigate the globe three times, due in part, to his use of watercress in his sailors diets.
Watercress is believed by many to be an aphrodisiac. In Crete, islanders swear by its powers and ancient recipes are handed down from one generation to the next. In the 1970s, an Arab prince was reputed to have had special consignments flown out from the UK, presumably to help him satisfy his harem! And in Hampshire England, its special powers are part of folklore.
Lewis and Clark regularly found watercress on their trek across the Louisiana Purchase.
Eating a bag of watercress is said to be a good cure for a hang-over.
The U.S. Army planted watercress in the gardens of forts along the western trails, as food for their soldiers.
Watercress is mentioned so often as an ingredient in detox vegetable juice recipes and as a cure for a variety of ills, that it could virtually be viewed as a staple part of the regime for those wishing to juice their way to health.
According to British vegetarian writer Colin Spencer, the Romans treated insanity with vinegar and watercress.
Watercress made front page news in the summer of 2001 when Liz Hurley revealed that she relies on watercress to maintain a nutritious diet while trying to keep her figure in trim.
"The American Indian used watercress for liver and kidney trouble and to dissolve kidney stones. It is rich in iron and other valuable mineral elements and its blood purifying and system cleansing properties cause it to be used extensively as a blood purifier."
According to Cretan legend watercress grew in the springs of the Dikton Cave on Crete where the god Zeus is said to have eaten the plant to fortify himself against his murderous father Cronos.
"J.E. Meyers, Botanical Gardens of Hammond, Indiana informs us that watercress is one of the best sources of vitamin E. This is the fertility vitamin, helping the body to use oxygen, which increases physical endurance and stamina and improves heart response."
Anglo-Saxons swore by watercress potage to 'spring clean' the blood.
Roman emperors ate it to help them make 'bold decisions.'
"Brazilian research found watercress extract to possess anti-tumor properties while other research found watercress leaf juice to be active against cultures of tubercle bacillus." Native Essence Herb Comapny's Herbal Formulas.com.
Irish monks were said to survive for long periods eating only bread and watercress and referred to watercress as 'pure food for sages.'
The Persian King Xerxes ordered his soldiers to eat watercress to keep them healthy during their long marches. It was also used by soldiers to both prevent and cure scurvy.
The juice pressed from watercress was used for gravies to accompany roast meats in medieval France.
Watercress (Rorripa nasturtium acquaticum ) is a member of the mustard family and is believed to have originated in Ancient Greece and remains an integral part of Mediterranean diets.
One of Britain's best known dishes, watercress soup, became very popular in the 17th century when it was claimed to cleanse the blood.
The Greeks had a saying that Eating cress makes one witty.
The herbalist John Gerard extolled watercress as an anti-scorbutic (remedy for scurvy) as early as 1636. No doubt in those days it was far easier to come by than oranges - a foreign extravagance.
When Hippocrates founded the first hospital on the Island of Kos around 400 BC, he grew wild watercress in the natural springs and used it to treat blood disorders.
As a medicinal plant, watercress has been traditionally considered a diuretic, expectorant, purgative, stimulant, stomachic and tonic. It has also been used as a remedy against anemia, eczema, kidney and liver disorders, tuberculosis, boils, warts and tumors.
Watercress was once popular as a tea, freshly made with lemon and sugar. It was drunk as a tonic to ease aches and pains.
Watercress is not indigenous to the United States. It was brought to this country by European immigrants in the mid-1800s.
Watercress has a long-standing reputation as a hair tonic, helping to promote the growth of thick hair when rubbed on the head.
In the 18th century, watercress was mixed with vinegar and used to treat people who were feeling dull or lethargic.
During the shortages of World War II, the traditional Sunday-night tea in Britain was watercress and vinegar, with a bit of bread and butter.
Watercress tea has also been used to alleviate the pain of migraine headaches.
Lord Byron was quoted as saying that watercress doth restore the bloom to the cheeks of a young maiden. He also called it the Herb that while young is friendly to life.
In the 1800s, a Parisian chemist used Watercress as an antidote to smoking. He dried it for a few days in the sun, then used it in his pipe, claiming that it had the flavor of his best tobacco.
Victorians thought the plant was a cure for toothache, hiccups and even freckles!
In the 21st century, scientists are discovering that watercress may indeed have properties to counteract the effects of smoking. Its cruciferous nature may even help prevent lung diseases, such as emphysema and cancer. In addition to vitamins A, C and E, watercress contains gluconasturtin (only released when the leaves are chopped or chewed), which helps neutralize a carcinogen in tobacco.
This delicious and natural "super food" has been grown commercially in the pure spring waters of southern England since the early 1800s. Commercial production in the United States began in about 1850.
In England, watercress used to be a staple part of the working class diet, most often eaten for breakfast in a sandwich. If the family was too poor to buy bread they ate it by itself and so watercress became known as the "poor man's bread."
Folic Acid has been shown to help prevent birth defects when consumed by pregnant women. Watercress has 150% more folic acid than broccoli and tops the list of recommended greens.
In England, street sellers would then buy it from the market and add their own value to the watercress by forming it into bunches. In those days, bunches were handheld and eaten ice-cream cone style.
Watercress has more iron than spinach, more calcium than milk and three times as much Vitamin E as lettuce. Its packed with vitamins A and C, and is low in calories.
Some call watercress the most underrated, underused green in the garden, and suggest that its regular consumption could effectively reduce, if not eliminate, many of the worlds problems with disease and hunger.
© B&W Quality Growers 2010
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