The tangy, pungent taste of the leaves gave rise to the plant’s generic name of nasturtium, which comes from the Latin nasi tortium, meaning ‘nose-twisting’. It is rich in Vitamin C and has long been used to prevent scurvy and other skin disorders.
Watercress, nasturtium officinale, is a peppery- flavoured creeping perennial which always grows near running water, so it can be found in fast-flowing streams and on the edges of rivers. It only grows in or near sweet water. The smooth green leaves are made up of small rounded leaflets and the tiny white flowers, which bloom from July to September, are clustered together at the tops of the stems. Wild watercress can be contaminated by liver fluke which is a dangerous parasite, so watercress should be purchased from a greengrocer or a reputable grower.
In the kitchen watercress is a useful and healthy salad plant and is at its best in May and June. Watercress soup is a delicious start to a meal and its popular use as a garnish is well known as it appears with so many dishes hot or cold.
Watercress is always used fresh and is never dried as this destroys the goodness.
Watercress should be eaten only in moderation, for too much over too long a period may cause cystitis or other bladder problems. It is an excellent herb for stimulating the appetite and a salad of the herb eaten every other day for a few days is efficacious. Watercress chewed on its own is said to prevent bleeding gums. It is one of the herbs included in a spring cure’ for toning up the whole system generally and for purifying the blood.
* Freshly expressed juice, using either a juice extractor or liquidizer, can be taken mixed with an equal quantity of milk. Drink a small glassful first thing in the morning on an empty stomach every other day for a few days. Watercress juice is also helpful for bronchial ailments; a smaller amount should be taken alone or mixed with clear broth.
A poultice made of crushed watercress leaves is helpful for swollen ankles.
* To make a poultice: Pound the watercress leaves to a pulp and spread carefully on to a piece of muslin or cheesecloth. Heat the pulp between 2 plates over a pan of boiling water and when sufficiently hot lay on the affected part until relief is obtained.
Fresh watercress juice is said to be good for spots and other skin blemishes. It can help to fade freckles and to clear the complexion.
* To make a skin lotion: Mix ¼ cup of honey with 10 tablespoons of expressed watercress juice. Mix together well and strain through muslin or cheesecloth into a jar. Cover, keep in the refrigerator and use within a few days. Dab the lotion on to the skin night and morning with a cotton wool pad, taking care to avoid the eyes and mouth.