Watercress (Nasturtium officional)
In this case, the latin name is confusing, it is not closely related to that spicy round- leaved plant with the colourful flowers that we all know by the name nasturtium.
Anyway, I was leaving the allotment this morning with my hands full of dandelions, calendula, chard and leeks when I spotted the most glorious clump of watercress. It was so beautiful and lush looking and totally asking to come home with me. So I picked about five stalks. Fast forward a bunch of hours and I stripped its leaves and top bit of stem off of the hollow coarser stem that got discarded and cooked it up (steam fry) and blended it with the remnants of whatever was in the blender before (feta, leek and chard mush). I mixed the watercress mush with some wild garlic pesto and I will heat that through in a while as a sauce for the feta & chard ravioli. (The ravioli was super quick to make, I used this recipe for the dough) So now I am sitting writing a rave about this somewhat neglected veggie in an attempt not to eat all of it before dinner time.
Watercress as the name suggests, grows in water, specifically slow moving water. We have a little stream passing though the allotments that seem to be an ideal habitat for this stuff. It is really tasty raw, it is spicy, fresh and green, but it is however best to cook the watercress that you forage as there is the chance of catching liver fluke from plants that hang about in rivers that drain from pasture. Watercress is in the crucifer family, think cabbages, this familial connection will become more obvious when it starts to flower (tiny white + shape flowers), all crucifers have 4 petals and they are typically arranged in a + shape. In taste, it is more similar to cress (also cabbage family). It contains vitamins A and C, some protein and very few calories (not the way I cook it).
Fool’s watercress is a plant that you may confuse watercress with, but it is unlikely. The fool’s version is a carrot family member, it has 5 petals and the flowers arranged in an umbrella type shape and is much lower growing, the only real similarity is the shape of the leaves and the colour of the flowers. It too is edible, and it't taste is reminiscent of parsnip. Follow the link to find out more.
I hope that I have persuaded you to give watercress a try should you see it this Spring.