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Watercress - Nasturtium officinale

Watercress - Nasurtium officinale

Main features

  • Found in or near water sources

  • Can reach up to 60cm tall

  • Leaves have pairs of oval leaflets and a terminal palmate leaflet

  • The leaves can lay flat in the water or be upright

  • Clusters of small white flowers

  • The flower are cruciform (cross-shaped) and have four petals

  • The seed pods are long and thin

  • Strong peppery cress smell when crushed

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Watercress - Nasturtium officinale

Edible plant - intermediate

Other common names Yellowcress


Scientific name meaning Nasturtium is derived from the Latin words Nasus and Tortus, meaning to wrinkle the nose. This is in reference to what the effect of the plant on the nasal passages. Officinale is Latin, and means "an office, monastery or pharmacy". This is actually in reference to the type of place where medicines would have been kept. This is due to the plant's medicinal uses

Season Late winter to Autumn


Habitat - where will I find it? Found in wet places such as ponds, streams, rivers, and dykes. It prefers unpolluted water and is native to Britain

Description - what does it look like? Watercress can reach 60cm in height. The leaves can be either upright of lying flat in the water. They have pairs of oval shaped leaflets, that are sometimes bluntly toothed, and terminate in a palmate leaflet.

It has clusters of small white four-petalled flowers (cruciform). These are followed by thin seed pods. 

When crushed, the leaves smell strongly of peppery-cress

Possible lookalikes Fool's Watercress (Apium nodiflorum) and Lesser Water Parsnip (Berula erecta) are similar to Watercress and grow int he same habitats. However, both smell of carrot/parsnip when crushed. Fool's Watercress is edible, but Lesser Water Parsnip is poisonous.

Often grows near Hemlock Water Dropwort (Oenanthe crocata), which is deadly poisonous. The leaves of this are lobed and the flowerheads are umbels of white flowers. Take care not to harvest by mistake.

Use as a food Watercress can be used raw (see Hazards) or cooked

Use in herbal medicine Rich in vitamins and minerals, Watercress has also been used for many medicinal purposes such as in respiratory, kidney, and skin disorders; to treat thinning hair and glandular tumours, and to treat tuberculosis.

If you are suffering from any ailment or need medical advice, please see your General Practitioner

Other uses The juice has been used as a nicotine solvent

Hazards There is some evidence it may affect the metabolism of Paracetamol. It is a Brassica and therefore a member of the mustard family.

In the UK, there is a waterborne sheep parasite called Liver Fluke that can affect humans. When harvesting from water, it is best to thoroughly cook any plant that is suspected of ever being below the water line in order to destroy any Liver Fluke that are present. Only plant material that has absolutely not been below the waterline or not had any possible contact with grazing animal faecal matter should be considered for eating uncooked

Importance to other species The flowers provide a source of nectar for pollinators 

Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!

Watercress - Nasurtium officinale - flower
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