Watercress (Nasturtium officinale), a member of the brassica family, has a peppery, mustardlike flavor. That pleasant burn is what makes it so wonderful to eat—it’s a brisk counterpoint for rich foods like braised pork. Its bracing quality has also made it a popular remedy in Eastern and Western folk medicine. Watercress is extremely good for you, containing more calcium by weight than milk, and is full of antioxidants that can battle lung and breast cancers.
(Sign up for our FREE newsletter to get clever kitchen tricks, gardening secrets, and more delivered straight to your inbox!)
Though watercress can be cultivated, when it’s grown hydroponically (as much supermarket watercress is), it is spindly and mild compared to that which sprouts streamside. I'm lucky to have a clean little stream that runs through a gully near my home in Seattle, where a dense patch of wild watercress bathes its roots in trickling water. I wade in and pick some, emerging with a dark green bouquet that I’ll use to add a peppery zing to whatever I’m making for dinner. If you don't have access to a clean foraging site (and it is very important that the water be free of pollutants!) you can usually find wild or organic watercress at farmers’ markets and locally minded grocers.
Related: 8 Weeds You Can Eat
If you do pick your own, here's how to harvest wild watercress: With scissors in hand to cut the hollow stems at the waterline, scout the edges of cool, very clean streams and shallow riverbeds for patches of emerging stems each holding three to five smooth, oval leaflets. You’ll get your feet wet, but the wild watercress is worth it.
Once you've gathered your wonderful watercress, here are a few watercress recipes to try: