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Watercress

Nasturtium officinale

 

Watercress is widespread and pretty easy to identify, plus is absolutely packed with flavour and nutrients! Watercress really is something of a superfood containing more nutrients than other lettuces or other salad leaves. How many more? According to the very informative Organic Facts.net boasts more Vitamin C than an orange, more Iron than spinach, more calcium than milk and more folate than bananas!

Much like its brassica cousins, its talents include helping to support a healthy thyroid and reducing oxidative damage to our very DNA, and is therefore touted as a cancer-preventative. If that’s not a reason to eat bundles of it on a daily basis I don’t know what is!

 

Where do you find it?

Watercress The clue to its favoured habitat is in the name, its roots need to be constantly wet so you’ll find it in pretty much any brook, stream or even field drainage ditches. A word of warning however, the condition of the waterway you are gathering from in the UK is often poor or at least unknown. Even if the water looks clean and is moving well, without conducting tests we have no way of knowing the levels of pesticides and fertilisers that may have been washed into the waterway from farmland, they may be tainted with road and industrial pollution, and let’s not forget the issue of raw sewage and animal faeces from fields and septic tank run-off. The waterborne parasite Liver Fluke can infect humans as well as sheep. Have those warnings put a bad taste in your mouth? Don’t worry, we don’t have to risk poor health in a gambled exchange for it’s health pro’s since it can be bought in most supermarkets, buy organic if you can find it. Yes encouraging people to buy a prolifically growing wild plant instead of foraging it for free does make me sad, but unfortunately it’s a modern reality - and I would rather you all live to camp another day!Always wash your foraged veg before eating!Always wash your foraged veg before eating!

If you’re still determined to gather wild growing watercress you can help avoid issues be sure to collect only from the cleanest waterways you can find; investigate what risks exist up-stream, and if possible pick only the tops of the plant as they will have had less exposure to suspect water. Make sure that you thoroughly wash your harvest in clean water at home, or safely filtered or purified water if camping wild. Proper cooking is the only reliable way to kill any nasty organisms still lurking in your pickings so perhaps save enjoying watercress raw for the farmed store-bought stuff.

Its stems are quite thick and succulent, the leaves being somewhat shiny and the thickness of spinach. The leaf size ranges quite widely from 1cm to 4cm and are circular to heart shaped with softly rounded, slightly-lobed edges. Beware of the poisonous Marshwort, also known as 'Fools Cress' which can grow nearby - it shares white flowers but has a much sharper leaf shape with a sharper toothed edge so is quite easy to differentiate from the good guy. Of course if you're at all unsure, leave it be.

 

How to prepare it:

Wild Garlic and Watercress saladWild Garlic and Watercress saladServing watercress as a salad may seem like an opt out on the effort front, but the fact remains that it is the most common way that I personally enjoy it! I find its stronger flavour goes nicely with red meats, bonus points if you pair it with shredded Wild Garlic...

 

Another way I enjoy using it is to toss a good handful with freshly cooked and drained peas along with a knob of butter. The heat from the peas lightly cooks the watercress enough to become something of a warm salad side dish. Similarly throw some into a stir fry towards the end of cooking.

 

Watercress & PastaWatercress & PastaIncluding it with pasta is nice and simple, and a great way to ramp up the nutrient level on what can quickly become a stodgy starch overload. Add a bunch to the drained pasta and toss well, allowing the residual heat to lightly cook it before serving. (Remember that wilting may not be enough to kill parasites if using wild gathered cress)

 

Like the more familiar sprouting cress, watercress goes equally well with egg so don’t forget to include some in your sandwiches. If you have extra eggs that need using up, another favourite of ours is to turn them into a quiche – an easy, convenient (and impressive!) lunch or picnic dish. Scatter a decent handful of watercress sprigs over a part-baked pastry base along with some cooked bacon lardons and cover with a mixture of beaten eggs, milk and cream/grated cheese before baking until firm.

 

A good soup can never be overlooked. Watercress’ gentle pepper notes go well partnered with peas, cream and potato.

 

Frankly I alone can’t do watercress the justice of a single recommended recipe and I won’t claim to, not when watercressrecipes.co.uk have certainly got a massive range already listed – I’m just pleased to be able to bring the link to your attention!

 

Their listing for salmon and watercress parcels sound incredible, and I’m sure will make an exciting and healthy lunch. It sounds especially convenient as a pack-up for Ryan when he’s working out in the countryside so I’ll definitely be trying those… I’ve got to keep him away from the burger vans somehow, and for now home made pastries have that allure! ;)

 

What are your thoughts on water cress? We’d love to hear from you so leave us a comment in the section below!

 

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Sarah is an artist and writer with a lifetime interest in camping and survival techniques.

Living the #vanlife since before it was a hashtag and touring on two wheels with her husband Ryan, they have a wealth of camping and motorcycling knowledge to share, and know a thing or two about packing light! read more


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