Monday, January 30, 2012
Wild Edible and Medicinal: Watercress
In the ol' days granny women would go out on the first warm days of spring and make a tonic out of many of the newly sprouted greens; nettles, chickweed, cleavers, etc... After months of living on heavy foods, many people needed these spring tonics to jump start their digestive tracts.
We have one wild green though that stays with us through all but the coldest winters. That is watercress. If you have a free flowing spring in your area, watercress can be your saving grace when it comes to keeping your digestive tract working.
Watercress is so highly nutritional that it has been used for years before chemically made vitamins to cure almost any vitamin deficiency diseases such as scurvy, rickets, or pellagra. Many old time secret remedies had watercress as a key ingredient. It is still the background flavor of V8 Juice, having been used in the original formula to keep people healthy after the harvest was done. Watercress, when rubbed raw onto age spots will help lighten the skin while giving it nutrients. Juiced with carrots (my favorite) will help revitalize the system and give you all the nutrients you will need for the day. As a poultice, with the whole plant crushed, it is often put on abscesses or open infections to help them heal. It is often used in natural 'stop smoking' cures because it helps heal the pathways to the blood and brain that coming off of nicotine can cause.
If you've never eaten watercress, it is a very peppery flavored plant, some people don't like it raw. Juiced with carrot or put in a salad it gives a nice bite to the sweetness of what it is paired with. The plant is small, with a square stem. The leaves are longer than they are wide, especially in older plants. It likes its feet wet. Look for it is shallow waters and it is best if taken from a free flowing spring. Here in Wisconsin you can find a nice spring full of watercress almost everywhere. Follow a stream or river along, looking for springs bubbling right out of the ground at the base of hills or in valleys. I have over 100 on my farm alone, so they're pretty common in a state so full of water.
If you harvest watercress from something besides a free flowing spring soak it in a 10% vinegar solution for 15 minutes or so. This is a must for your safety because livestock, especially sheep, can carry liver fluke. If they eliminate near the water source where your watercress is growing the watercress can have the liver fluke eggs on it. Liver fluke can be fatal if not caught in time. So to be safe soak any cress not gathered in a free flowing spring and you'll be safe.
This morning I want down to White Stone Spring, a sacred spring that bubbles out of a hillside on my farm, and gathered myself up some watercress. The walk itself help bring me back to myself after working away from the farm for a few days and the cress is a delicious wild edible to add to my breakfast eggs and my lunch sandwich. This hardy herb is not only a welcome flavor for these long winter months, but it is good for me too. Nature is very good at providing for us if we know what we're looking for.