Botanical: Nasturtium officinale (formerly Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum)
Family: Brassicaceae (cabbage) - Cruciferae (mustard)
Other common names: Scurvy Grass, Cress, Indian Cress, Brunnendresenkraut, Wasserkresse, Creson de Fontaine, Herbe aux Chantes, Brooklime, Brown Cress, Nasturtium, True Watercress, Cresson
Watercress is a rich storehouse of nutrients that has been used as a tonic since ancient times to cleanse the blood and liver of toxins and promote an overall feeling of good health. The herb has been used for a variety of ways that include enhancing stamina, ridding the body of excess fluids, and it is also thought to be a strong antioxidant, particularly in cases of malignancies associated with the lungs.
The information presented herein by Herbal Extracts Plus is intended for educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent disease. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.
Watercress is a juicy, vivid green, succulent aquatic plant that is native to Eurasia and was introduced to North America, where is may be found throughout Canada and the United States. This leafy, hardy perennial can also be grown as an annual and is found wild in abundance near springs, in open running watercourses, shallow creeks, ditches, ponds, lakes, brooks and slow-moving rivers - wherever the water is clear and cool and slow-moving through limestone formations. Watercress thrives in shallow (two to six inches), alkaline water in sun or even in pots of rich alluvial soil that stand in dishes of water. Being semi-aquatic, Watercress is well-suited to hydroponic cultivation. It has a creeping habit with smooth, fleshy stems that bear roundish, heart-shaped leaflets and small white and green flowers on the extremities. The primary Watercress harvest is between March and October, when the leafy crop grows above the water. The tops of the plants are cut by the handful about six inches below the tips and then gathered into bunches. Under favorable growing conditions, regrowth of the tops allows harvest about a month apart. In the winter, Watercress grows under water. Watercress can be pulled for harvest with the roots intact during this period, thinning the stand in the process. For culinary purposes, the roots are cut off before marketing the bunches, but for medicinal purposes, the roots are also used, because the basal root tissue systems of Watercress have an ability to absorb a greater proportion of mineral nutrients than the shoots, particularly phosphate and potassium. It has been used for thousands of years as a nutritious addition to cuisine and an important factor in herbal medicine. Watercress was one of the first plants cultivated by man and one of the oldest known leaf vegetables consumed by human beings. It was used by Persian and Greek soldiers as a tonic to improve their health and stamina, and has been used through the ages as a spring tonic to tone the liver and cleanse the blood. Its botanical genus, Nasturtium, is derived from two Latin words, nasus tortus, meaning "convulsed (or) wrinkled nose," undoubtedly referring to the plant's pungency. Oddly, although the Watercress botanical genus is Nasturtium, the plant is not related to the flowers in the genus, Tropaeolum, popularly known as Nasturtiums. The famed seventeenth-century English herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper, recommended this bitter, pungent, stimulant herb to "free the face" from blotches, spots and blemishes. In North America, Native Americans used Watercress for liver and kidney trouble and to dissolve gallstones. Watercress has risen to a starring role in elaborate culinary preparations and is as beneficial for the health as much as the palate. It may be used as a garnish, in salads and sandwiches, added to herb butters, dressings, casseroles, soups and sauces for fish, and is also made into refreshing and nourishing teas. Some of the constituents in Watercress include volatile oil, flavonoids, arginine, glutamic-acid, glycine, histidine, isoleucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, serine, tryptophan, phenylethyl isothiocyanate, tyrosine, valine, aspartic-acid, phosphorus, potash, nitrogen, iodine, protein, sulfur (probably accounting for the herb's pungent fragrance). Watercress is a highly nutritious herb and is particularly rich in iron, calcium, potassium and vitamin C, and it includes many other valuable mineral elements and vitamins, such as vitamin K, D and E, folic acid, beta-carotene, pantothenic acid and biotin. Watercress is also a rich source of the carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin.
Watercress is believed to be an effective diuretic that promotes urine flow, which helps in clearing toxins from the system. Moreover, it is said to help relieve excess water retention and edema, and some claim that it may help heart disease by relieving retained fluid. The herb is also thought to support good kidney function and ease urinary and bladder problems. Furthermore, many cultures have used Watercress to break up kidney stones or bladder stones.
Herbalists have used Watercress as a blood purifier with system cleansing properties that help to clear toxins from the body. Because of its high potassium content, it is strongly alkaline and, therefore, considered useful in treating acidity and purifying the blood. By cleansing the blood, Watercress has been useful in treating skin eruptions, eczema, acne, rashes and other skin infections.
Watercress is considered a tonic for the liver. The herb has been used to promote and increase bile production and flow, which not only supports liver function and ease gall bladder complaints, but it is also beneficial for the digestive system. The herb has been thought to alleviate indigestion and inhibit gas formation.
In the past, Watercress was used to treat scurvy, which is not very common nowadays, but because of its high vitamin C content, the herb is good for helping other imbalances relative to vitamin C deficiency.
Watercress is thought to be an effective expectorant that helps to expel excess mucus and is believed to relieve bronchitis, coughs and mucus in the lungs.
The high iron content in Watercress is thought to be useful in cases of anemia.
Watercress is loaded with nutrients and has been considered an overall tonic for good health. It has been used to ease the debility associated with chronic disease, to increase stamina and physical endurance (supporting the ancient soldiers' use of the herb), to enhance the body's immune system and stimulate the body's rate of metabolism.
Watercress was used in the past to help in cases of tuberculosis, and recent studies have found that it may be effective against cultures of the tubercle bacillus.
Recent research shows promise in studying Watercress's use as an antioxidant that may have potential in treatment for malignant diseases. The flavonoids are said to increase immunity, and some studies have claimed that it possesses antitumor properties in laboratory mice. In epidemiological studies presented by the American Association for Cancer Research, consumption of Watercress protected against lung cancer in humans, but the protective constituents were not been identified. Phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), which is released when chewing Watercress, appears to be a chemopreventive agent against malignant lung disease induced by the tobacco-specific lung carcinogen. The results of this study support the hypothesis that PEITC inhibits this oxidative metabolism in humans, as seen in rodents, and supports further development of PEITC as a chemopreventive agent against lung cancer.
Watercress is an abundant source of lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that may be particularly beneficial for the eyes (and the heart). High dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin is linked to a lower risk of advanced age-related macular (eye) degeneration, the most common cause of adult blindness.
With regard to heart health, there is growing evidence that suggests that lutein and zeaxanthin may also offer important protection for the cardiovascular system. Individuals with higher blood levels of lutein and zeaxanthin were found to have less atherosclerosis of the arteries of the neck than those with lower blood levels. Furthermore, in the studies, people with higher blood levels of lutein were less likely to succumb to a heart attack than those with lower levels.
Overuse (many times the recommended dosage) or prolonged use of Watercress Herbal Supplement on a daily basis (more then four weeks) may cause stomach upset or kidney problems. Some doctors caution against use during pregnancy, as it may be a uterine stimulant. Individuals with allergies to members of the cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, mustard greens, collard greens, bok choy and turnips) should avoid Watercress. Do not use Watercress if you have duodenal ulcers or kidney disease, and it should not to be used by children under the age of four. Although not well studied, some early research claims that Watercress may interfere with the way certain herbs, medications or other supplements may work in the system (either increasing or diminishing efficacy), so it may be wise to take Watercress separately.