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Watercress: The Leafy Green Plant

Watercress

Watercress

Watercress is a leafy green which falls in the Brassicaceae family of vegetables. The Brassicaceae family includes vegetables like cabbage, Brussel sprouts, and kale. Watercress was considered a weed but is a plant with edible stems and small round leaves. It grows in streams with flowing water submerged and spread on the mud. It is also cultivated in moist soil or tanks. The plants are dense and bushy with round leaves. The highly beneficial nutrients present in watercress are used as medicine to treat multiple health conditions or ailments. The watercress plant grows rapidly and falls in the species of the aquatic flowering plant. It is mainly used as a culinary spice or in leafy salads. Watercress is grown widely grown in multiple countries in watery beds.

Watercress is considered a weed, herb, or aquatic plant used as a vegetable. In 1808 it was cultivated by the horticulturist William Bradbery in the United Kingdom along the River Ebbsfleet in Kent. Now it is also grown in other parts of the United Kingdom like Dorset, Hampshire, and Wiltshire. The watercress capital is the town of Alresford near Winchester which holds the watercress festival every year attracting almost 15000 visitors.

Vegetarian Salad

Vegetarian Salad

Watercress: Health Benefits

In India, it is seen in cold spring streams or water springs in the State of Missouri. Worldwide it is available in major areas of North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. It falls in the group of the mustard family or tuberous leafy veggies such as radish, garlic mustard, or Kale. It has a pungent peppery flavor which is good for salads or garnishes and is also used in multiple recipes to enhance the flavor.

Ancient Romans believed and used watercress as a cure for mental illness. It was used to treat constipation and kidney-related problems in Native America.

Watercress is nutritious and has medicinal value. It is used for seasonal flu, bronchitis, constipation, arthritis, inflammation, and more. You can use it raw in a salad or steam it for a sandwich or soup. It can be used as a topping or blended in pesto.

1. Nutrients

Watercress is nutritious for the presence of multiple nutrients. For its medicinal value, it is ranked number one in the list of Disease Control’s Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables of US centers.

It is low in calories but contains essential vitamins like Calcium, Manganese, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, Fiber, carbs, and proteins. It also contains vitamin E, riboflavin, vitamin B6, magnesium, sodium, copper, and potassium.

2. High in Antioxidants

Watercress is a high source of antioxidants that prevents cell damage. Antioxidants also prevent oxidative stress which also helps prevent cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. All kinds of foods that are rich in antioxidants like cruciferous vegetables help prevent or lower the risk of several diseases where watercress was found as the highest performing for the ability to neutralize free radicals. Around 40 unique flavonoids are found in watercress as per studies.

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3. Anti-cancer

As per studies, the regular consumption of cruciferous vegetables in good quantities is found to minimize the risks of breast cancer and bladder cancer effectively. Sulforaphane is also a compound present in this vegetable to help fight against cancer. Further research and studies are required but it is found that histone deacetylase (HDAC) present in cancer cells can be controlled by Sulforaphane.

4. Heart health

Watercress consumption supports heart health in various ways. As per studies,16% of heart disease risk is seen reduced among individuals consuming cruciferous vegetables regularly. The main antioxidants responsible for this are lutein, zeaxanthin, and carotene. Carotenoids and dietary nitrates lower the risk of stroke, help reduce inflammation and stiffness of blood vessels. Dietary nitrates in watercress also contain nitric oxide which helps reduce blood pressure. Watercress improves heart health by lowering cholesterol as well.

5. Bone health

Vitamin K is one of the essential vitamins which helps improve and maintain bone health. Osteocalcin helps regulate bone turnover with healthy bone tissue. Vitamin K is an important element of Osteocalcin. Vitamin K also helps improve calcium absorption in the body. Consumption of around a cup of watercress fulfills the requirement of vitamin K regularly. Watercress is also a good source of calcium which supports bone health.

6. Eye Health

The antioxidants zeaxanthin and lutein are good for eye health and protect from blue light. Zeaxanthin, lutein, and vitamin C in watercress also prevent age-related macular degeneration and cataract.

7. Physical Activity

Dietary nitrate in watercress increases exercises tolerance by reducing oxygen requirement during exercise and lowering resting blood pressure. Small studies have shown that consumption of around 100 gms of watercress for a week increased carbon-dioxide production at the time of exercise which could be negative for the performance of individuals. While dietary nitrates are seen to improve exercise, more research is required for watercress regarding enhancing athletic performance.

Precautions

  1. In the case of blood thinning medication, vitamin K intake should be taken care and sudden changes are not advised.
  2. Juices containing nitrates should be refrigerated and avoid building up bacteria where harmful nitrite is formed. Nitrite can increase the risk of stomach cancer as per the American heart association. It is advised to take care regarding refrigeration of watercress juices.
  3. It is good to consume or use it as fresh as possible to get the nutrition and benefits and avoid the negative effects as well.
  4. It may not be safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women. It is also not good for kids below 4 years and is advised to avoid cases of intestinal ulcers and kidney disease.
  5. Watercress may have a diuretic effect or tendency of discharging more urine. It may alter the retention levels of Lithium in the body and result in side effects. Medical advice is recommended in the case of lithium-based medications for an individual. Lithium therapy is used for mood disorders or to stabilize mood and maintain mental health. It is effectively used for bipolar disorder and major depressive disorders as well.
  6. Warfarin is used to reduce blood clotting whereas vitamin K in watercress helps in blood clotting. In this case, again medical advice is recommended, and the dosage of warfarin should be monitored along with the consumption of watercress.
Fish with greens

Fish with greens

Conclusion

Watercress is versatile and can be used in various recipes to add a unique flavor, freshness, and nutritional value. You can add it raw to your sandwich instead of lettuce or add it to your hot bowl of soup. Chop and mix some in your salad or with scrambled eggs. It can also be used as a garnish, sauces, or blended to make a dip with other ingredients. It can also be added to pasta or pizza. It is low in calories but packed with essential nutrients. A simple sandwich spread can be created quickly by blending watercress, avocado, salt, pepper, olive oil, and mayonnaise together for a quick breakfast or snack in the evening. Watercress is a healthy and easy addition to boost the nutritional value of your time in every way. The right amount of consumption should be under professional supervision for individuals suffering from certain health problems or medical conditions.

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