Watercress, scientifically known as Nasturtium officinalis, is a perennial plant native to Europe, Asia and America. Watercress has been known since ancient times not only for its culinary qualities, but also as a medicinal herb with multiple health benefits. Recent studies are also confirming the anti-cancer effect of watercress.
The health benefits from watercress derive from the fact that this plant has active ingredients called thyoglycosides (which help prevent blood clots). It is also rich in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins such as vitamin C, folate, beta-carotene, minerals such as potassium, calcium, phosphorus, iron and iodine. Moderate amounts of vitamins B1, B2 and the minerals zinc, copper and manganese are also found in watercress.
Watercress has been widely known as an aphrodisiac, being popular in ancient Rome and Persia, likely due to its high content of zinc and iron. This plant can also help manage iron deficient anemia, since it is a great source of iron. It has also strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities. The fiber in watercress helps improve blood glucose levels and digestive symptoms. Watercress can help promote healthy bones since it contains significant amounts of minerals. The sulphur found in the active ingredients or thyoglycosides, can provide relief for productive coughs associated with bronchitis.
Hair and skin may become healthier while consuming watercress, and symptoms such as dandruff, hair loss and eczema can be improved. Better vision can be noticed while using watercress, because this plant contains lutein, zeaxanthin as well as vitamin A and zinc. Thyroid hormones can be balanced and hypothyroidism improved because of the high contents of iodine. Overall, watercress has a detoxifying quality, not only cleansing the liver but also helps to eliminate toxins from the entire body.
In the news: the anti-cancer effect of Watercress
Recent studies are confirming the anti-cancer qualities of watercress. It’s antioxidant ingredients help fight free radical damage and thus prevents many chronic degenerative conditions, including cancer.
For example, a study published in 2012 conducted by researchers from the University of Southampton, found that watercress may “turn off” a signal in the body that promotes the development of cancer. When cancerous tumors grow, they typically outgrow their blood supply and send out signals which will trigger a reaction from the surrounding tissues. These signals can facilitate the growth of new blood vessels which will continue to feed the cancerous cells with oxygen and nutrients. However, one compound found abundantly in watercress, phenylethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), has the ability to block these signals by altering the function of a protein named Hypoxia Inducible Factor (HIF). The participants of this study were all women diagnosed with breast cancer who consumed 80 grams (the equivalent of a cereal bowl) of watercress.
Watercress has a strong and bitter taste and should be mixed with other greens and lemon juice when consumed. In Chinese medicine, this plant is boiled or added to soups.
This plant should not be used by those suffering from hyperthyroidism (due to its high content of iodine) or those suffering from bladder inflammations. As usual, watercress is safe when consumed as a food, but its consumption should be monitored by a healthcare professional if is used in higher doses, as a medicinal plant.