What is watercress?

Watercress (Nasturtium officinale, N. microphyllum; formerly Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum, R. microphylla) are fast-growing, aquatic or semi-aquatic, perennial plants. Their natural 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.

What is watercress?
Through the latter half of the twentieth century the popularity of watercress had been falling, mainly due to increased competition from imported and more exotic ‘fresh produce’. However since its identification as a ‘superfood’, watercress has been experiencing something of a revival and has now become one of the most popular salad crops available today.

Brimming with more than 15 essential vitamins and minerals and packed full of beneficial glucosinolates, 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’.

When cell samples were exposed to hydrogen peroxide – a highly reactive substance which is used to generates large numbers of free radicals within the body - damage levels were found to be 9.4% lower than would normally be expected. In addition to this, the research found that the blood levels of antioxidant compounds, such as lutein and beta-carotene (naturally occurring chemicals important in combating the effect of free radicals) were also increased significantly. In contrast, levels of potentially harmful triglycerides were reduced by an average of 10%.

With important discoveries such as these being discovered within one of the cheapest and easiest to grow salad plants that you can find, you would be foolish not to include watercress as a part of your everyday meal plan. Not only can it help reduce the incidence of this country's number 1 killer, it actually tastes good too.

Main image credit - HealthAliciouNess.com https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en

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