Watercress is a leafy green, perennial herb that grows naturally along fresh spring waterways. It is also cultivated on farms in moist soil. It is a member of the Brassicaceae family of plants that also includes arugula and mustard greens, all known for their peppery taste. And like arugula, watercress health benefits are quite impressive for such an unassuming plant.
This edible herb is native to Europe, North and South America, and parts of Asia. In 1800’s England laborers ate cress sandwiches. It was considered a dietary staple for the working classes. Today, it is revered for its delicate leaves, aggressive flavor, and quality nutrients.
Watercress Health Benefits
In this first of our article, we lay out some of the more remarkable watercress health benefits.
Bone and Tooth Health
Calcium, found in cress, is necessary for the maintenance of healthy bones and teeth. Consuming plenty of foods rich in calcium has been shown to help in the prevention of osteoporosis.
Vitamin K is also important for bone health in that it promotes osteotroblastic cell production. Therefore, this is an important aspect in the formation and strengthening of bones. This perennial plant is a great source of vitamin K. One cup of cress can provide the RDA (Recommended Daily Amount) of vitamin K.
Consumption of cruciferous vegetables and herbs is effective in the prevention of several types of cancers. Studies suggest that foods containing sulforaphane, a sulfur compound, have cancer-fighting properties. Sulforaphane is what gives watercress and similar herbs their peppery and bitter taste.
This herb contains fairly high amounts of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll may improve the body’s ability to fight damaging free radicals. Moreover, it may help diffuse the effects carcinogens found in foods that are grilled at high temperatures.
Cruciferous plants contain good amounts of vitamin C. Also, they contain the minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium. All of these nutrients are necessary for reducing LDL cholesterol and for preventing hypertension. Apart from that, minerals are also necessary for helping to reduce sodium levels in our bodies. Sodium is directly linked to high blood pressure.
Leafy watercress contains nitrates. Nitrates have been linked to the reduction of high blood pressure. This was evidenced by studies on the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet.
Cress contains antioxidants, one of them being alpha-lipoic acid. ALA may lower blood glucose levels and prevent oxidative stress that is the pathogenic factor leading to insulin resistance in persons with type 2 diabetes.
This leafy green herb is extremely low in calories and contains no significant levels of fat. Nor does it contain any cholesterol. For this reason, cress is considered an excellent food to consume in the prevention of weight gain and in weight loss programs.
Watercress Nutritional Value
Apart from the watercress health benefits, watercress has some great nutritional properties. Cress is very low in calories, yet the leaves and stems have good amounts of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. The herb does not contain any cholesterol or saturated fat. It is mainly water, plant fiber, and a little protein. Here are some of the nutritional qualities of watercress.
Vitamin A: The vitamin A in cress is 106% of the RDA. This helps protect our bodies from various cancers. Vitamin A is a key factor in maintaining healthy eyesight, healthy mucous membranes, and clear skin. Also, it is a good source of carotenes and free radical fighting antioxidants.
Vitamin C: Cress contains 72% of the RDA of vitamin C. Moreover, Vitamin C is an excellent antioxidant that is useful in boosting immunity and maintaining healthy connective tissue.
Vitamin K: Vitamin K is available in high amounts, at 208% RDA. Therefore, it is one of the best watercress health benefits. Apart from that, Vitamin K plays a role in the formation of bone mass. Also, it provides support for neural development and brain health.
Calcium: The calcium content is 12% RDA. It is required for bone and dental health, as well as for the regulation of heart and skeletal muscle function.
Copper: The copper in cress is an essential trace mineral that helps with the formation of collagen and increases the absorption of iron.
Manganese: Cress provides 11% RDA of manganese. This mineral is a necessary co-factor of the superoxide dismutase enzyme that is essential in the prevention of cell damage by free radicals.
Watercress is commonly used in culinary preparations. Most often, people enjoy it raw or fresh in salads. However, you can turn watercress into a dressing or pesto. Apart from that, you can toss it into warm pasta dishes or sauté it like any other green. You can also make a purée or a soup with it. Moreover, you can use it as a garnish. Recently, health advocates have encouraged us to add watercress to our morning green smoothies, to take full advantage of watercress health benefits.
You can store fresh cress upright in a glass jar with a little water in the bottom to keep it hydrated. It will do best stored in the refrigerator. If it still has its roots, it will be fine for many days in some water on your countertop.
Herb and Cucumber Salad
- 1 bunch of watercress, washed and trimmed
- 1 large cucumber, diced
- 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 TBS red wine vinegar
- 2 TBS honey
- sea salt and ground pepper to taste
- Whisk the vinegar and honey in a large glass bowl. Slowly whisk in the EVOO to emulsify. Add salt and pepper.
- Toss the herbs and cucumber into the bowl with the dressing and coat everything with the dressing.
- Serve this as a refreshing side dish to lean protein, like grilled chicken breast, and seasoned brown rice.
Green Smoothie Recipe
- 1 ripe medium banana
- 1/2 apple
- 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
- 1 cup cress leaves
- 1 cup filtered water (or less)
Just blend all of this together for a nutritious breakfast or post-workout smoothie.
Watercress is often available year round because it grows hydroponically in hot houses. Wild and farmed cress is available in spring and summer. This peppery and savory herb, in addition to watercress health benefits, it is quite nutritious and delicious. You can use it in many recipes much the same way spinach and arugula are prepared. We can all benefit nutritionally by using more fresh herbs in our diets.
If you have any questions or personal experiences with this great herb, please feel free to share your insights with us.