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.
Watercress is one of three major cresses. The others are upland cress (Barbarea verna) and garden cress (Lepidium sativum).
Watercress is a hardy perennial native to Europe and Asia, which has been widely naturalized in the U.S. and Canada. Its tangy taste and high nutritional value have been appreciated through recorded history, mentioned by the Persians, Greeks and Romans.
Watercress is a member of the mustard family and has peppery, slightly bitter tasting leaves but little aromatic qualities.
It normally grows in sunny pools of clean, flowing water. Watercress will form white flowers. When they are present, it will have a stronger flavor.
It is used in all kinds of recipes in Europe. In France one of the best known soup recipes is Potage Cressionniere, a combination of potatoes and watercress.
In England watercress is used in sandwiches and in Italy it is used in minestrone.
Watercress should be planted where there is lightly running water, in full sun.
It may be propagated by seed, cuttings or by transplants.
Seeds should be started on a moist but not flooded bed. Flooding should be done after the seedlings emerge.
The plants should be transplanted or thinned to 6 inches.
Transplants and cuttings should start right away on a lightly flooded bed.
Watercress needs constant clean water. It cannot be allowed to become stagnant. The best location is on the edges of a stream.
Post-Harvest and Packing
Watercress is harvested by cutting the top 6 inches of the plants, trimming to 4 inches.
These stems are bunched and rinsed before marketing. Watercress can be stored at cold temperatures and high humidity for up to a week.
Watercress is a good source of Vitamins A and C, along with niacin, ascorbic acid, thiamine, riboflavin and iron.