WHAT IS WATERCRESS?
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Watercresses (Nasturtium officinale, N. microphyllum; formerly Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum, R. microphylla) are fast-growing, aquatic or semi-aquatic, perennial plants. Their netural habitat ranges from Europe to central Asia, and it is 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.
History tells us that the ancient European civilizations had great faith in the health giving properties that watercress had to offer. In fact, Hippocrates - the Father of modern medicine - is said to have deliberately located his first hospital beside a stream so that he could grow a plentiful and convenient supply of watercress with which to help treat his patients.
Brimming with more than 15 essential vitamins and minerals and packed full of beneficial glucosinates, watercress contains- gram for gram - more vitamin C than oranges, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach and more folic acid than bananas.
However what really makes watercress a ‘super food’ is the release of recent research which shows that eating watercress regularly can help cut the chances of developing cancer.
The University of Ulster has published a report in the ‘American Journal of Clinical Nutrition’ that suggests a regular intake of fresh watercress can significantly reduce DNA damage to white blood cells within the human body. In fact, they found that DNA damage to white blood cells was cut by an incredible 22.9%. This is a terribly important find, especially as white blood cell damage is considered to be an important trigger in the development of cancer.
In addition to this, watercress also appears to raise the levels of beneficial compounds within human cells allowing them to protect themselves from the damaging effects of particles known as ‘free radicals’.
With important discoveries such as these being discovered within one of the cheapest and easiest to grow salad plants that you can find, you wold be foolish not to include watercress as a part of your everyday meal plan. Not only can it help reduce the incidence of this countries number 1 killer, it actually tastes good too.
How to grow watercress from seed
Start by using plastic pots which have had small holes (approximately 3-4mm in diameter) drilled into the sides. Fill them with the compost mix and push 3 or 4 seeds – evenly spread - into the surface to around about an inch deep. Fill a suitable, high-sided container with water and place the sown pots into it. Leave the water level so that it is about ½ to 1 inch below the soil level. Place the container outside in a bright position, but out of direct sunlight and extremes of temperature. The important thing to remember here is to ensure the soil remains soaked at all times and to change the water for fresh each day to avoid fungal infections. You can expect to see the new seedlings emerging anytime from 7-10 days.
After a further 2-3 more weeks in the pot, the seedlings should be big enough to be transplanted in to their permanent positions. The best times of year for this would be at the end of spring and beginning of autumn as this will give them plenty of time to establish before they need to cope with the extremes of summer and winter temperatures. However, so long as their final position allows them to be covered by at least a few inches of water throughout the year, they can be planted at almost anytime.
stream bed, making sure the holes are roughly a foot apart. Make sure that when planted, the leaves of your watercress are comfortably floating on the waters surface.
If the body of water they are being kept in is enclosed - such as a large pond - and fed by a re-circulating pump, then as the watercress plants naturalise they can be propagated by simply breaking off sections of plants - making sure that they have a healthy root system attached – and allowing them to just to float around on the waters surface. There are normally enough nutrients present in the water (especially if you are keeping fish) for the plants to continue growing without the need to take root and receive its nutrients from the soil.
Harvest your watercress leaves as and when you need them from the end of spring and onward into early summer. You will have to wait for late autumn however if you wish to harvest any more, as the leaves will become bitter and inedible once the plant comes into flower.
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Based on an article from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watercress
Images care of http://fraukuchen.wordpress.com/2009/07/06/watercress-auf-deutsche/ and http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/7957663/Watercress-may-help-fight-cancer.html and http://www.incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk/blogs/man-bites-veg-grown-on-fish-poo and http://troutcaviar.blogspot.co.uk/2009_04_01_archive.html