Whether it's eaten raw, used as a
garnish, or added to salads, sandwiches, and soups, the dark green, peppery
leaves of watercress are among the more nutritious salad greens.
Watercress is a cruciferous
vegetable that is rich in antioxidants, bioflavonoids, and other substances
that may protect against certain types of cancer, particularly those of the
digestive system. It also has been found to contain a phytochemical called
phenylethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), which may detoxify the carcinogens that
are linked to lung cancer. Watercress is also a good source of vitamins A
(in the form of beta carotene, its precursor) and C, antioxidants that
protect against cell damage by free radicals, unstable molecules that are
produced when the body uses oxygen. A single cup of chopped watercress
provides 1,600 IU of vitamin A, approximately 15 mg o vitamin C, and useful
amounts of calcium and potassium, yet it contains less than 5 calories.
Many alternative practitioners
suggest that watercress can alleviate gastrointestinal upsets and help to
treat respiratory problems and urinary tract infections. Some claim that it
also can be useful as a mild antidepressant, an appetite stimulant, and a
diuretic. Application of its juice is recommended to clear up acne. These
health benefits have not yet been verified, however.
BUYING AND SERVING WATERCRESS
Watercress is only available
fresh and is usually sold in bunches. When purchasing the vegetable, look
for crisp leaves ad a bright green color; bypass any with yellow or wilted
leaves. Although watercress may be found in small streambeds, it's not a
good idea to pick it in the wild. Streams often contain parasites and
bacteria that may cause intestinal infections. Even watercress from a
supermarket, which ahs usually been grown in a controlled environment,
should be washed thoroughly before it is served.
The pungency of watercress is
complemented by citrus. Use a light citrus dressing on a watercress salad,
or toss orange or grapefruit slices with watercress for a refreshing fruit
salad. Watercress can also be added to a variety of cooked dishes. However,
to preserve its vitamins and to prevent the leaves from turning brown, it
should be cooked rapidly (microwaving works well) and served right away.