Foraged Wild Watercress
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Wild watercress grows in bodies of fresh running water. Its foliage floats in clusters on the water’s surface and spindly white roots anchor it below. The dark green leaves are deeply lobbed into smaller oval leaflets along a central midrib. The small white stalked blossoms are also edible. Both the flowers and greens have a clean peppery note reminiscent of horseradish. Harvest only the tender leaves, avoiding the tough bitter roots that will continue to propagate. When foraging watercress be sure that it is from a clean water source, due to potentially harmful microorganisms.
Wild watercress may be foraged year-round in temperate climates.
Wild watercress is an herbaceous perennial botanically known as Nasturtium officinale. As a member of the mustard family it shares the distinct peppery bite of kohlrabi, turnip, radish and broccoli. Its name, Nasturtium, translates to “nose twist” in Latin, referring to its peppery aroma. Wild watercress resembles its conventional cousin, but is less bitter and has a more robust flavor. Watercress is currently being studied for a cancer fighting compound it contains called isothiocyanates. Tests have shown that this substance naturally occurs in cruciferous vegetables and may block the growth of lung tumors.
Wild watercress is an abundant source of vitamins A, B, C, E and K. It is rich in calcium, beta carotene, potassium, iron and protein. It is a natural diuretic and expectorant used to treat gout, congestion and fluid retention.
Wild watercress may be eaten raw when foraged from a safe water source. It adds a sharp peppery note to salads with fruit and is a classic compliment to beef sandwiches. When sautéed, watercress develops a sweet earthy flavor that compliments salty ingredients like soy sauce, capers and anchovies.
Wild watercress is native to parts of Europe and Asia. It came to America with immigrants and quickly spread across every state. Today it can be found in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Europe, Asia and North and South America. Wild watercress grows in aquatic environments with a slight alkalinity. It thrives in cold water streams, springs and rivers with gravelly beds.
Recipes that include Foraged Wild Watercress. One is easiest, three is harder.