Cress is a general name for a range of plants, usually eaten as a sharp tasting salad garnish or potherb.
In France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark and England there are horticultural centers which specialize in growing the cresses year round.
Garden cress is one of three major cresses. The others are watercress (Nasturtium officinale) and upland cress (Barbarea verna). Watercress has eclipsed garden cress in many countries, such as Spain and France. But this is not the case in other central European countries or in the United Kingdom, where it is widely grown.
Garden cress is an erect, herbaceous annual, growing up to 50 cm and believed to be native to Southwest Asia, perhaps Persia.
It spread many centuries ago to Western Europe. Xenophon (400 BC) mentions that the Persians ate this plant even before bread was known. It was also familiar to the Egyptians and very much used by the Greeks and Romans, who were fond of spicy salads.
It is mainly used today in the seedling stage, added to salads and as a garnish and decoration for dishes. The roots, seeds and leaves have been used as a spicy condiment.
Garden cress is an easily grown plant with few requirements. It can be broadcast after the winter frosts or throughout the year in temperate climates, with rows about a foot apart.
Sowing has to be repeated every 15 to 20 days to ensure there is no shortage of young shoots and new leaves for salads. The leaves of earlier sowings become tough and are no longer usable.
Irrigation is critical, as lightly rooted seedlings can dry up in a few days. Growth is very rapid and harvesting can begin in the same month as sowing.
In England garden cress is harvested when the first pair of cotyledon leaves have developed.
Post-Harvest and Packing
In England it is marketed in small bags or trays, sometimes with seedlings of white mustard.