22 Jan 2010

Watercress - A Superfood

Most people do not realize that watercress (nasturtium officinale) is one of our most nutritious vegetables. It is one of the oldest green leafy vegetables known to man. It is a hardy perennial plant and semi-aquatic, is found in it's wild state on the banks of rivers in many parts of Europe and Asia. Both the Roman and Ancient Greeks held the plant in high regard.

Watercress is an excellent source of the beta-carotene (converts to vitamin A in the body), vitamins B1, B6, C, E and K. It is also a good source of dietary fibre, folic acid (folate), iodine, phosphorous, selenium, potassium, iron, calcium and copper. On top of that it's carotenoid content of lutein and zeaxanthin and the flavornoid quercetin make it truly a superfood. Gram for gram it has more antioxidants than broccoli and tomatoes, more vitamin C than oranges, more absorbable iron than spinach, more potassium than bananas, more quercetin than broccoli and even more calcium than milk.

Therefore, when eaten, watercress benefits our whole body:
Lutein, zeaxanthin and zinc for the eyes.
Iron, zinc and vitamin A for hair and nails.
Iodine for the thyroid.
Folic acid, iron, vitamin B6 & C for the blood.
Calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, manganese and vitamins for the bones.
Vitamins A, E & C for the skin.
Carotenes, zinc, vitamins A, C & E for the immune system.
Vitamin K assists in blood clotting when injured.

Externally fresh watercress juice has been used to stimulate thick hair growth, to heal acne and eczema, and to lighten freckles.

Another watercress health plus is that it contains high levels of a type of glucosinolate, called phenylethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), which is thought to be a main factor in cancer prevention. Currently a clinical study is being done at the University of Southampton, England in which it is investigating watercress’s potential ability to suppress breast cancer cell development. The results are due to be announced on 2 March 2010. This follows previous research carried out by the University of Ulster, Coleraine, and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in February 2007 which found that watercress increased the ability of cells to resist DNA damage caused by free radicals and that daily intake of watercress significantly reduced levels of DNA damage found in blood cells. DNA damage is considered to be an important trigger in the early stages of cancer. For more detail, Listen to the BBC interview on 15th Feb 2007 with Professor Ian Rowland of the University of Ulster here.

When purchasing buy fresh, dark green, organic watercress. Once purchased it can be stored in a container or plastic bag for a couple of days in the vegetable drawer of the fridge. Eat as soon as possible for the best health benefits. Why not try to grow your own, either in your garden or in a container? Watercress is a wonderful addition to salads, sandwiches and vegetable juices. delicious in soups and stir fries as well.

Useful links:

Picnic Green-and-Gold Gazpacho
From Vegetarian Times
For easy transport and serving, pack this soup in a tight-closing bottle or wide-mouthed Thermos, and pre-assemble skewers of lime wedges and radish quarters to pack in a resealable plastic bag. Because the gazpacho is blended, guests can sip it from small cups rather than using spoons.

1 cup radishes
1 cup watercress
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
4 green onions, coarsely chopped
3 large yellow or green zebra tomatoes, cut into quarters
2 tbsps lime juice
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsps prepared horseradish
1/2 tsp celery salt
1/4 tsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
Lime wedges and radish quarters, for garnish

Place radishes, watercress, basil, and green onions in bowl of food processor, and pulse until finely chopped and almost smooth. Add tomatoes, lime juice, olive oil, horseradish, celery salt, and Worcestershire sauce, and pulse until finely chopped. Season with salt and pepper, and thin with water if soup is too thick. Thread lime wedges and radish quarters onto 6 toothpicks. To serve: Ladle soup into glasses, and garnish with lime-and-radish skewers. Serves 6

Watercress and Red Bell Pepper Salad
From Rhio's Raw Energy

2 bunches watercress, chopped
3 red bell peppers, julienne
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, ground
3 tbsp dehydrated onion, flaked or powdered (or use fresh minced onion, to taste)
1-2 garlic cloves, pressed
small piece of fresh ginger, pressed (use garlic press)
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 tbsp flaxseed oil (or use 1 tbsp. of half flaxseed oil and half sesame oil)
Nama Shoyu or Celtic sea salt, to taste (optional)
for garnish: clover or alfalfa sprouts

Mix the first four ingredients together in a large bowl. Set aside. In a small bowl, blend the oil, lemon juice and seasoning, to taste. Pour over the salad and toss well. Transfer to serving bowls and garnish with clover or alfalfa sprouts all around the edge. Serves 2-4, depending on how hungry you are. Keeps 1 day in fridge.

Sauteed Watercress with Yellow Squash and Sesame Seeds
From Gourmet | July 2004

1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsps fresh lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
1 med yellow summer squash (6 oz/180gms)
1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 bunch watercress coarse stems discarded
1/2 tsp sesame seeds, toasted

Stir together soy sauce, lemon juice, sugar, and a pinch of salt in a small bowl. Cut a 1/4-inch-thick slice lengthwise from each of the 4 sides of squash. Discard squash core, then cut slices lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick strips. Heat oil in a 10-inch skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté squash, stirring, 1 minute. Add watercress and half of soy mixture, then cook, stirring, until watercress is just wilted, about 1 minute. Transfer vegetables with tongs to a small bowl, discarding any excess liquid. Drizzle with remaining soy mixture and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

Watercress and Barley Salad
Adapted from Whole Living
Grains make a salad more substantial. They also continue to absorb moisture as they sit, so if you've made the salad in advance, you might need to add more dressing or lemon juice to perk it up when serving. For a change of pace, try substituting 3 1/2 cups of another cooked whole grain, such as brown rice or quinoa, for the barley.

1 cup pearled barley, rinsed and drained
Coarse salt
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tsps vegan Dijon mustard
1 tsp agarve syrup or other sweetener
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Ground pepper
2 med carrots, cut into small diced pieces
1 med cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut into medium-size diced pieces
1/2 small red onion, minced
1/4 cup minced fresh dill
1 large bunch watercress, stems trimmed, torn into bite-size pieces
1/3 cup toasted sunflower seeds

In a large pot, bring 2 quarts water to a boil over high heat. Add barley and 1/2 teaspoon salt; reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until barley is tender but still chewy, about 35 minutes. Drain; rinse barley under cold running water until cool. Drain well, and transfer to a large bowl. Whisk together lemon juice, mustard, syrup, and oil in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper. Set aside. Add carrots, cucumber, red onion, dill, and dressing to large bowl with barley. Toss to combine. At serving time, add watercress and sunflower seeds; toss to combine. Place salad on platter to serve family-style, or mound on individual plates. Serve at room temperature. Serves 4-6.

Chana Masal (Spicy Chickpeas) with Watercress

1 can organic chickpeas (garbanzo) in water or 1 ½ cups precooked+ ½ cup water
½ onion, diced
3 tbsp olive oil
Juice from of one lemon, ( approx 2 tbsp)
½ tsp curry powder
½ tsp coriander powder
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp garam masala
1 large bunch of watercress or two handfuls, rinsed & trimmed

In a large skillet or frying pan, saute onions and garlic in olive oil until soft about 3-5 minutes. Add chickpeas straight from the can., including all the water. Add the spices and lemon juice, cover, and simmer about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, adding more water if needed, until chick peas are browned and soft. Reduce heat, add spinach and cover. Allow spinach to wilt for 2-4 minutes. Serve immediately.


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Marion said...

The other day, even though I was still sick with the flu, I had to go grocery shopping. I was drawn to the watercress display and bought a large bundle. I had no idea WHY I was drawn to it...I just let my intuition guide me as to what would be good for me.

And here you are with a post about watercress being a super food! I had no idea it was filled with so many good vitamins. Thank you for the recipes and the info, Jackie!

Kath Lockett said...

I'm an occasional lurker here and I just wanted to 'come out' and let you know just how informative your articles are!

World Vitamins Online said...

Along with the benefits to eye health that lutein can provide it has been shown in recent studies to protect our skin from UV light. This is the type of light that causes sunburn and skin cancer. It can act as a natural sunblock.

Greenearth said...

I was thinking as I looked at your blog how wonderful your food is and how it should be in a book.

Eric said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nancy said...

A lot of people don't know about Watercress. It's a shame because it's so good! My favorite way to eat it is with some tofu and balsamic vinegar.

Stephan Grobler said...

I am very interested in this plant, but I'm not sure what to call it in Afrikaans, not many people know about it when I say watercress. Any idea?

Jackie said...

Thanks everyone. I haven't got back to you all yet due to a hectic life offline at the moment but intend to this week.

Stephan, sorry but took Latin and French at school in Zim! The water bit easy but cress I wouldn't even guess at :)