The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that watercress promoted strength and character. Hippocrates is said to have picked the green from the streams flowing by his hospital and served it to his patients as a blood purifier. Watercress's historical renown even extends to the taste buds, with its Latin name, nasturtium, alluding to a peppery bite that "twists the nose." The plant no doubt brings a zesty spin to the standard stable of leafy greens.
While there's no solid evidence to support the hypotheses of the ancients, modern studies do show that the nutrients in watercress can help our eyes, bones, and overall health. Watercress contains the antioxidant duo lutein and zeaxanthin, which may help protect against macular degeneration. It also packs in beta-carotene: Once converted by the body to vitamin A, this nutrient safeguards vision, aids cell regeneration, and helps regulate the immune system.
Watercress harbors its fair share of vitamins and minerals, too. Its vitamin C protects the body's important molecules like proteins and carbohydrates, promotes cardiovascular health, and may help ward off the common cold. One cup of watercress provides nearly the daily requirement of vitamin K, which assists with healthy blood clotting and building bones. The mineral manganese also helps keep bones strong, as well as aids in the conversion of certain nutrients into energy.
The spiciness in watercress comes from sulfur-containing phytonutrients called glucosinolates. Studies suggest these compounds can help reduce DNA damage and display powerful anticarcinogenic properties. Given the green's notoriously pungent taste, it makes sense that watercress contains a high concentration of glucosinolates compared to its cruciferous cousins.
How To Buy
Watercress is available year-round. Look for healthy, green leaves and sniff for a fresh, spicy scent. When home, store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to four days.
Watercress's popularity around the globe shows in its versatility in the kitchen; it makes an excellent addition to everything from soups and salads to stir-fries and sandwiches. To clean, snip off the lower stems and, holding the bunch upside down, swish the leaves in a bowl of cold water. Shake or spin dry.
Per 1 cup chopped, raw
Calories: 4 kcal
Fat: 0.03 g
Fiber: 0.2 g = 0.8 percent* of DRI**
Manganese: 0.08 mg = 4.4 percent of DRI
Vitamin C: 14.6 mg = 19.6 percent DRI
Vitamin K: 85 mcg = 94 percent DRI
Beta-carotene: 651 mcg
Lutein + Zeaxanthin: 1,961 mcg
* Percentages are for women 31 to 50 who are not pregnant
** DRI, Dietary Reference Intakes, is based on National Academy of Sciences' Dietary Reference Intakes, 1997 to 2004