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Watercress History & Facts

Watercress has an illustrious history, with ancient origins and a variety of uses.

Watercress’s history is a long one, with evidence of its use dating back 3 millennia to the Persians, Greeks, and Romans. It also makes an appearance in iconic historical events, such as the very first Thanksgiving (it was recorded as a menu item).

Ancient Origins

Up until the renaissance, this spunky salad green was used as a breath freshener and palate cleanser, as well as for medical purposes. Though our ancient friends knew nothing about mineral content and vitamins, the Persians did observe that soldiers were healthier when watercress was part of their daily diet.

The Greeks were no strangers to the health benefits of watercress, either. 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.

More Recent Watercress History

It is reported that Nicholas Messier first grew watercress in Erfurt, Germany, in the middle of the 16th century. English cultivation started in early 1800, when a farmer near London began to popularize watercress as a salad ingredient. It was not long before it became increasingly difficult to meet the rather sudden increase in demand for watercress.

The herbalist John Gerard celebrated watercress as a remedy for scurvy as early as 1636. And 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 sailor’s diets.

So, watercress has had an illustrious history, with one constant: health-wise, it’s always a winner.

Watercress Facts

  • Watercress is believed by many to be an aphrodisiac. In Crete, islanders swear by its powers and ancient recipes are handed down from one generation to the next.
  • Lewis and Clark regularly found watercress on their trek across the Louisiana Purchase.
  • Eating a bag of watercress is said to be a good cure for a hang-over.
  • The U.S. Army planted watercress in the gardens of forts along the western trails, as food for their soldiers.
  • According to British vegetarian writer Colin Spencer, the Romans treated insanity with vinegar and watercress.
  • Roman emperors ate it to help them make “bold decisions”
  • The Persian King Xerxes ordered his soldiers to eat watercress to keep them healthy during their long marches. It was also used by soldiers to both prevent and cure scurvy.
  • Watercress is a member of the mustard family and is believed to have originated in Ancient Greece and remains an integral part of Mediterranean diets.
  • One of Britain's best known dishes, watercress soup, became very popular in the 17th century when it was claimed to cleanse the blood.
  • The Greeks had a saying that “Eating cress makes one witty.”
  • Watercress is not indigenous to the United States. It was brought to this country by European immigrants in the mid-1800s.
  • Watercress has a long-standing reputation as a hair tonic, helping to promote the growth of thick hair when rubbed on the head.
  • During the shortages of World War II, the traditional Sunday-night tea in Britain was watercress and vinegar, with a bit of bread and butter.

Featured Recipes

Glazed Salmon with Sesame Watercress Salad
Warm Potato Salad with Watercress Mayo and Bacon
Arugula, Watercress & Parmesan Salad
Prosciutto Arugula Salad Rolls

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