Sunday, March 30, 2014

Preventing Scurvy with Watercress

" 'What are you doing, Mr. Fraser?' Grey asked, in some bewilderment.
Fraser looked up, mildly surprised, but not embarrassed in the slightest.  'I am picking watercress, Major.'
'I see that,' Grey said testily. 'What for?'
'To eat, Major,' Fraser replied evenly. He took the stained cloth bag from his belt and dropped the dripping green mass into it...
'I only meant, Major, that eating green plants will stop ye getting scurvy and loose teeth. My men eat such greens as I take them, and cress is better-tasting than most things I can pick on the moor.'
Grey felt his brows shoot up. 'Green plants stop scurvy?' he blurted. 'Wherever did you get that notion?'
'From my wife!' Fraser snapped." -- From  "Voyager," by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 9

Ah, the benefits of having a time-traveling spouse to bring helpful knowledge from the future into one's present. We all should be so fortunate!

For myself, I have to say that I am glad to live in a time and place where I can choose other foods to meet my dietary needs. I could eat watercress if necessary to survive, but its strong, peppery, radish-like flavor assures that, outside of buying a bunch to take the photo at the top of this page, I won't be adding it to my shopping list again any time soon. 


Botanical Information

Family: Brassicaceae
Genus: Nasturtium
Species: Nasturtium officiale


A member of the Brassicaceae family, watercress is related to cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. In spite of its genus name, Nasturium, it is not closely related to the flower of that name.


Origin

Watercress is native to Europe and Asia. True to its common name, it is semi-aquatic and can be found growing in and along the edge of water.


Nutritional Value

Claire was right. In the late 16th century, the English military surgeon, John Woodall, recommended eating it for the prevention of scurvy. 

Native Americans apparently understood the value of eating their greens and used watercress as a vegetable in winter. According to A Druid's Herbalthey kept track of the location of watercress beds so that when streams were covered with ice, they knew where to break through and find these vitamin-rich plants.

Today, the humble watercress plant has its own website, where you can read more about how it is proving useful in the prevention and treatment of cancer, among other things. It is rich in nutrients like Vitamins A and C (C protects against scurvy), folate, iron and potassium.

Cultivation

Some people consider watercress to be a weed and therefore unworthy of cultivation. 

Those who do produce it commercially have to find either a slightly alkaline fresh water environment for growing it or grow it hydroponically. 

Watercress is a plant that needs to be consumed fresh. It can only last a couple of days in refrigerated storage. 

If you would like to try growing your own watercress, heirloom seeds are available at Botanical Interests.

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