Watercress (Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum) is a wild green that I have heard much about, but had never seen until recently. It is a popular wild, edible plant that belongs to the mustard family. Watercress grows in standing or slow moving fresh water. People describe it as having a peppery or spicy flavor. I was always nervous to try it because I don't like spicy foods and until recently I hadn't liked radishes or vegetables described as spicy.
Just recently the ranch workers were discussing a patch of watercress growing up in a Leonard Creek tributary, north of the ranch. A couple of weeks ago, while I was in Reno, Dan's mother went up and gathered some. Dan absolutely loved it, but wasn't sure if I would like it because of it's spicy flavor, but since I'm very interested in wild edibles I was definitely excited to give watercress a try.
On Friday, 6/12/09, Dan and I went up to change the waters at chicken creek and Leonard creek meadow. On our way home we decided to stop and gather some watercress, there is quite a bit in the patch that we stopped at, but we only took a little bit. I ate some as we were gathering and it was very spicy*. I could handle a little, but not too much. However, when we added it to our sandwiches the spiciness was dampened quite a bit. It still added a nice flavor, but not the overwhelming spiciness. Later that night we added it to lettuce and radishes from our garden and it made for a really tasty salad, again I found that the spiciness was reduced when it was added to other veggies.
Medicinally speaking, watercress has had many uses in the past. It has long been used to sooth sore throats and stuffy noses. A cold infusion of plants has been used to reduce fevers. Decoctions of the plant have also been used as a kidney and liver aid. Polices of fresh whole plants have been applied to the forehead to relieve headaches and dizziness.
*Since watercress grows in water be careful when eating it directly after picking and without washing, it could have waterborne pathogens on it.
Moerman, Daniel E. (1998). Native American Ethnobotany. Portland, OR: Timber Press.
Tilford, Gregory L. (1997). Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West. Missoula MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company.
Watercress Herb Profile (n.d.). Retrieved on 6/13/09 from Mountain Rose Herbs: http://www.mountainroseherbs.com/learn/watercress.php.