Water Cress - Seeds
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Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) is a fast-growing, aquatic or semi-aquatic, perennial plant native to Europe and Asia, and one of the oldest known leaf vegetables consumed by humans. It is a member of the family Brassicaceae, botanically related to garden cress, mustard and radish — all noteworthy for a peppery, tangy flavour.
Botanical Name: Nasturtium officinale
Aquatic, hardy perennial with succulent, hollow branching stems from 1-2 feet. The creeping or floating stems root easily and bear fleshy, shiny, heart-shaped leaves. The leaves are very dark green to brownish green or bronze, with a distinctive bitter taste. From early summer to mid-autumn, clusters of small white flowers appear at the tips of the stems.
The white watercress: The mostly glabrous (hairless), petiolate leaves are oval shaped or pinnately divided, with narrow lateral lobes and a wider lobe at the top of each leaf. The small, white to purplish white flowers are characteristically mustardlike and borne in clusters on terminal stalks that arise from the upper leaf axils, each with four petals.
The fruits are linear, ½ to 1 inch long capsules, each containing two rows of tiny seeds. The floating, trailing stems and foliage of watercress may grow to 32 inches long, but usually only the top 4-6 inches are visible above the water’s surface.
The original habitat of watercress is in Europe and in particular, may have moved from Russia throughout the rest of Europe. Eventually watercress made its way to Northern Africa, North America and the Caribbean. Early European migrants helped the transit of watercress to North America, by taking it to protect against scurvy due to the high vitamin C content.
Early Romans and Greeks believed watercress enhanced brain functioning. Later, in Medieval Europe, watercress was used as a salve for sword wounds.
Although usually grown commercially in water, watercress can be grown in the garden soil provided it is given plenty of water and will crop from early summer till around Christmas if protected with cloches during cold spells.
You can also grow it in a container stood in a saucer of water. Plant 3 to 4 plants to a 30cm (12in) tub or pot and stand in a container with about 2 to 3in of water, in the shade. Keep the water constantly topped up to this level. The important thing to remember is to ensure the soil remains soaked at all times and to changing the water for fresh each day to avoid fungal infections.
Sowing: Sow successionally spring to autumn
Start seeds indoors in March to April or sow directly once the soil has begun to warm in April to May. Sow successionally each month until autumn. If you plant a sowing undercover late in the year, this will give fresh winter salad greens.
Fill pots or trays with regular multipurpose compost; moisten by standing the container in water, then drain. Sow seeds by sprinkling quite finely onto the surface.
Cover the container with clear glass or plastic sheet. Once germinated, remove the glass. (If the nights are still cold, put the glass back on in the evening). Water daily, lightly at first, then thoroughly with a watering can once grown.
Sow in very shallow drills spread 7.5cm (3in) apart, and cover with a light covering of soil. You may wish to have your drill at the bottom of a small trench approximately 8 to 10cm (3-4in) deep for easier watering. Watercress seeds are quick to germinate anytime from 7 to 10 days. Thin out the seedlings finally to 10cm (4in) apart
Keep weed free and water regularly and copiously throughout the season. Watercress produces small, white flowers in flat-topped clusters in summer to early autumn and, unless harvested frequently to prevent these flowers from forming, the leaves will become less tender and bitter.
Harvest once the plants have become well developed by trimming off tops of the shoots (about half its length) with sharp scissors. The stems will regenerate by producing side shoots. Carry on cutting as it grows. You can cut the same lengths when they re-grow too, but bear in mind that after 2 or 3 cuts the stalks start to get tough and the taste gets stronger as the plant get bigger.. You can feed it with an organic fertiliser after the second cut to give it some final oomph. Sow successionally for tender young shoots.
Grow in sun or semi-shade in moist soil. Enrich soil with organic fertiliser (such as Yates Blood & Bone or Dynamic Lifter Organic Plant Food) before planting. Feed plants regularly with Yates Thrive Soluble Plant Food. Continuous harvest promotes new growth. Protect plants from snails and slugs with Yates Blitzem.
Add Yates Garden Lime to soil at least once a year. Maintain adequate moisture in the soil or potting mix. Cut stems regularly to thicken plant growth.
Watercress has seen a recovery in recent years, whereas in the recent past it was often used as an uneaten garnish on meals. All parts of the plant can be used, raw or cooked and impart a spicy, peppery taste. The leaves may be used fresh in salads, sandwiches and garnishes.
Alternatively, they may be used cooked in casseroles, stews or soups and in butters, spreads and sauces. Watercress is very popular in Asian cuisine.
- Watercress contains significant amounts of iron, calcium, iodine, and folic acid, in addition to vitamins A and C. Because it is relatively rich in Vitamin C, watercress was suggested (among other plants) by English military surgeon John Woodall as a remedy for scurvy.
- Many benefits from eating watercress are claimed, such as that it acts as a stimulant, a source of phytochemicals and antioxidants, a diuretic, an expectorant, and a digestive aid.
- It also appears to have antiangiogenic cancer-suppressing properties; it is widely believed to help defend against lung cancer.
- A 2010 study conducted by the University of Southampton found that consumption of watercress may also inhibit the growth of breast cancer. The content of phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC) in watercress inhibits HIF, which can inhibit angiogenesis.
- Watercress is mentioned in the Talmud as being able to stop bleeding, when mixed with vinegar.
Watercress crops grown in the presence of manure can be a haven for parasites such as the liver fluke Fasciola hepatica. Watercress is a known inhibitor of the cytochrome P450 CYP2E1, which may result in altered drug metabolism for individuals on certain medications such as chlorzoxazone.
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