9 Tasty Ways To Eat Watercress

Wild watercress is delicious, nutritious, and best of all, free.

February 17, 2017
watercress growing in the wild
itsabreeze photography/getty

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.

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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: 

watercress pesto
Thomas Connertz / EyeEm/getty
Watercress Pesto

Chef Maria Hines of Seattle’s Golden Beetle and Agrodolce restaurants, turns wild cress into a zesty pesto. Here’s how to make it at home:

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add 6 packed cups watercress; blanch until wilted, about 1 minute.

2. Drain and plunge into a bowl of ice water to cool. Drain and squeeze out excess water.

3. Place in food processor with 1 cup extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup toasted almonds, 4 chopped cloves garlic, and zest of 2 lemons; pulse until smooth, about 2 minutes. Season with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and lemon juice, to taste.

watercress soup
Watercress Soup

One of the most wonderful ways to prepare watercress is as watercress soup, where you purée the watercress—traditionally with sauteed onion and simmered potatoes—to make a soup with a creamy body and an emerald green hue. Try this watercress soup recipe from David Lebovitz, which includes green peas for an extra pop of color.   

goat cheese sandwich
Watercress Sandwiches

Swap in watercress for lettuce to lend a little more excitement—and a lot more nutrition—to your next BLT by making into a “BWT”—bacon, watercress, and tomato. Or try it in this goat cheese, pear, and pecan sandwich.

watercress smoothies
Watercress Smoothie

Loading your smoothie up with leafy greens (yes, watercress counts!) is a good way to keep it low-sugar. (For more smoothie pointers, see The No Recipe Formula For Healthy Smoothies)

beet + watercress salad
Watercress Salad

Crispy watercress is a lovely counterpoint to tender root vegetables in springtime salad recipes. Try pairing them with beets and sunflower seeds, or try that peppery watercress as a salad topped with crunchy pistachios, roasted carrots and chicken breast.

salad dressing
Claudia Totir/getty
Watercress Salad Dressing

Making salad dressing at home requires just a few minutes of your time and a blender, and it’s way better for you (free of stabilizers and other junk) than store-bought. Watercress adds a good-for-you quotient to delectably garlicky, herbaceous Green Goddess Dressing.

watercress with fish
Watercress with Fish

The next time you pan-fry fish, slap the finished fillet onto a bed of rinsed, raw watercress—the salty juices from the fish will create an instant, effortless dressing for the greens. (This is also a nice way to serve chicken with watercress).  (See 4 Ways To Cook Salmon Steaks And Fillets Fast)

watercress on tacos
Jorge Montiel / EyeEm/getty
Watercress Tacos

Forget shredded iceberg—use raw watercress to top your tacos (they're especially good with pork and chicken).

radish sandwich
Antonis Achilleos
Watercress Compound Butter

Blending watercress with goat cheese and butter yields watercress compound butter, an elegant topping for a sliced baguette and shaved radishes, for slathering on a hot ear of summer corn, or for tossing with boiled noodles.