Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Watercress/ Brøndkarse
Nasturtium officinale

- a brook almost overgrown in watercress.

Watercress is native from Europe to central Asia and one of the oldest known leaf vegetables. The plant is a member of the cabbage family, related to garden cress and mustard, known for their peppery flavour. It is not related to Tropaeolum, popularly known as "nasturtiums".
Watercress grows mainly in running water, with its long creeping, hollow stalks floating on the surface. The small flowers are white or green - and like many plants in this family the foliage of watercress becomes bitter when the plants begin producing flowers. If unharvested, watercress can grow to a height of 50-120 cm.

Watercress thrives in clean, running water, but can be cultivated in a garden or in a pot. The plant is immensely rich in minerals and vitamins and works fine in the kitchen. Watercress has more iron than spinach, more calcium than milk and three times as much vitamin E as lettuce. It's packed with vitamins A and C, and is low in calories. It is dealed fresh and the young shots are used before flowering. Its taste is spicy and piquante, it can be used raw or cooked in salads, soup, shellfish and as a green sprinkle; suits for Hamburg parsley, pork, champignons, chicken, grill, fish and dressing. The seeds kan germinate like common cress and the dry seeds can be crushed to a mustard. One of Britain's best known dishes, watercress soup, became very popular in the 17th century when it was claimed to cleanse the blood. Watercress was once popular as a tea, freshly made with lemon and sugar. It was drunk as a tonic to ease aches and pains.

NB: It is not advisable to gather watercress out in nature unless it is absolutely certain that no animals are upstreams, especially sheep. People can get a deadly serious infection from a liver parasite. (The parasite dies by cooking.)

The juice from watercress is used in bathing soaps, and the cooked plant in baths for soar muscles. It has a long-standing reputation as a hair-tonic, helping to promote the growth of thick hair when rubbed on the head. Watercress cooked in milk and added honey is used for a face lotion, which keeps the skin soft and brightens freckles. Victorians actually thought the plant could remove freckles, and they also used it as a cure for toothache and hiccups. Eating a bag of watercress is said to be a good cure for a hang-over.

Dollerup Bæk

When Hippocrates founded the first hospital on the island of Kos around 400 BC, he grew wild watercress in the natural springs and used it to treat blood disorders. As a medicinal plant watercress has been traditionally considered a diuretic, expectorant, purgative, stimulant, stomachic and tonic. It has also been used as a remedy against anemia, eczema, kidney and liver disorders, tuberculosis, boils, warts and tumors. It is commonly detoxicating and strengthening by long illness. According to Pliny the smoke of burning cress keeps away serpents.

According to the book "James Cook and the Conquest of Scurvy", Captain James Cook was able to circumnavigate the Globe three times, due in part, to his use of watercress in his sailors diets. Maybe he had read about the Persian king Xerxes who ordered his soldiers to eat watercress to keep them healthy during their long marches. It was also used by soldiers in general to both prevent and cure scurvy. Irish monks were said to survive for long periods eating only bread and watercress and referred to watercress as"pure food for sages". Lord Byron was quoted as saying that watercress "doth restore the bloom to the cheeks of a young maiden". He also called it the "Herb that while young is friendly to life."

Watercress belongs to the Moon. It is connected to the water's elementary creatures, the Undines. If it is worn in a red flannelbag it protects people who sail or flies over water. It gives insight in the nature of water. If watercress is eaten by day peoples' dreams will be more provident, mysterious and visionary. The plant increases empathy and understanding.

Anglo-Saxons swore by watercress potage to "spring clean" the blood. The British vegetarian writer Colin Spencer says that the Romans treated insanity with vinegar and watercress. Roman emperors ate it to help them make "bold decisions". Watercress is believed by many to be an aphrodisiac and in Crete, islanders swear by its powers and ancient recipes are handed down from one generation to the next. The Greeks had a saying that "Eating cress makes one witty". According to Cretan legend watercress grew in the springs of the Dikton Cave on Crete where the god Zeus is said to have eaten the plant to fortify himself against his murderous father Cronos.

"When I ask for a water cress sandwich, I do not mean a loaf with a field in the middle of it.”
Oscar Wilde

photo Dollerup Bæk, 25. July 2009: grethe bachmann

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