Early Spring Greens: Wonderful Watercress
PEI’s wild greens are popping up so fast this spring it’s hard to keep up! However, I always have time to stop and collect one of my favourites: Watercress (Nasturtium microphyllum).
If you associate Watercress with fussy, crustless, triangle-cut sandwiches appropriate only for afternoon tea, you are missing out. This member of the Mustard Family (Brassicaceae) is both a flavour- and nutritional powerhouse. Fresh Watercress has a pleasing crunch and peppery flavour a bit like home-grown radish (another member of the Mustard Family). It’s also packed with Vitamins A, C, K, folic acid, iron, calcium, potassium, and carotenoids.
You can find Watercress growing in springs and slow-moving freshwater streams across PEI (Photo 1). Its small leaves are compound, with each one having two to eight opposite, roundish leaflets along the midrib plus one larger leaflet at the tip (Photo 2). It’s mostly a creeping plant, although by the time Watercress flowers in mid-summer it may be 10-15 cm (4-6 inches) tall.
Mistaking another plant for Watercress is not usually a concern, but ensuring you are collecting from an uncontaminated site is. The small leaves and close-packed stems are unquestionably hard to clean. I first rinse the plants well to remove loose dirt and debris and then soak them in a bowl of fresh water to get rid of any grit that may be left. From here, I dissolve a water purification tablet in a bowl of fresh water and transfer the Watercress to it for 30 minutes (Photo 3). I then rinse the plants and enjoy! Any Watercress not eaten right away gets stored in a bowl of fresh water in the refrigerator.
Fresh Watercress is a fantastic base for a salad topped with a very light vinaigrette (or even nothing at all; the flavour of this plant stands on its own). When I have the munchies and a bowl of Watercress in the fridge, a few handfuls often fills the bill.
Looking for other meal ideas? Try Watercress:
· with tuna or egg salad (Photo 4);
· with smoked salmon and cream cheese on rye bread;
· added to smoothies;
· chopped into plain Greek yoghurt (enjoy for breakfast or as a twist on tzatziki);
· as the base for pesto;
· tossed with pasta, oil, garlic, and tomatoes;
· mixed into mashed potatoes or potato salad;
· in a ham and cheese quiche;
· as a topping on pizza;
· substituted for spinach in any recipe;
· lightly sauteed in sesame oil; or
· tossed in at the end of a stir fry.
Watercress is native to the Europe, North Africa, and Asia and was brought to North America in the late 18th or early 19th century. As a non-native plant (with the potential to be invasive), there’s no real concern about over-harvest. That said, do take care not to disturb waterways or native plants and animals while foraging for Watercress, and be sure to wash your boots and collecting tools so you don’t spread it further. Enjoy this edible part of PEI-untamed!