Watercress originates from the eastern Mediterranean and adjoining areas of Asia. It is cultivated commercially for its small, pungent leaves that may be used as a salad green or garnish. Greek, Persian and Roman civilizations ate watercress for its health-related properties. The Greeks believed watercress was beneficial to the brain. Applied externally, it has a reputation as an effective hair tonic, helping to promote the growth of thick hair.
Watercress is a member of the Brassicaceae family, which includes cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, mustard greens, collard greens, bok choy and turnips. These plants contain specific indoles (aromatic organic compounds) that activate enzymes in the body; these enzymes then deactivate and dispose of excess estrogen. Heavy cooking destroys indoles and is not recommended for medicinal purposes.
Watercress also contains phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), which is a dietary compound present in cruciferous vegetables that has cancer-preventive properties.
Watercress was formerly used as a domestic remedy against scurvy. The species Cochlearia officianalis is commonly referred to as scurvy grass; sailors would consume this plant to prevent scurvy from developing. Although this plant is referred to as watercress, scurvy grass has flowers with a strong fragrance and taste.
Agrião, Berro, Berro de Agua, Brassicacae, Brunnendresenkraut, Brunnenkresse, Cochleria officinalis, Crescione Di Fonte, Cresson au Poulet, Cresson D'eau, Cresson de Fontaine, Garden cress, GlucosinolatesIsothiocyanates (ITCs), Herba nasturtii Aquatici, Herbe aux Chantes, Indian Cress, Mizu-Garashi, Nasilord, Nasturii herba, Nasturtium officinale, Nasturtium officinale R. Br., Oranda-Garashi, Phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC) (PEITC-NAC), Rorripa, Rorripa nasturtium aquaticum, scurvy grass, scrubby grass, Selada-Air, Spoonwort, Tall Nasturtium, Tropaeolaceae, Tropaeolum majus, Wasserkresse, waterkres.
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.