Though the name is a tongue-twister, cress is worth every bit of effort: It’s hardy, easy to grow, resists bolting and useable fresh or cooked. I’ll share a recipe or two in a bit.
Now it seems the food world has rediscovered cress. Once the preferred ingredient to tea sandwiches my grandmother served, cress’ popularity fell to the status of garnish, as did parsley.
According to a recent article in the Washington Post, cress is considered a superfood, topping the list of 41 “powerhouse fruits and vegetables” developed by researchers at William Paterson University in New Jersey. It ranks them by the amounts of 17 critical nutrients they contain.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s scores superfoods by their content of fiber, potassium, protein, calcium, folate, vitamin B12, vitamin A, vitamin D and other nutrients, the CDCP reported, in a study published last week in the journal “Preventing Chronic Disease.”
Cress, most commonly referred to as watercress, packs large amounts of a wide variety of these important substances. It hits the ceiling with a score of 100. The next five in the “best of” category: Chinese cabbage (91.99), chard (89.27), beet greens (87.08), spinach (86.43) and chicory (73.36).
While we can’t grow chicory in Kodiak, we can grow the remaining four list-toppers. And in case you’re wondering, leaf lettuce, parsley, romaine lettuce, collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, endive, chive and kale—all growable in Kodiak — follow close behind.
Funny how watercress tops the nutritional charts for in some regions it’s considered a weed. In other areas, watercress is recognized for its value to a healthy diet and grown in large-scale commercial operations as well as the small-scale garden. It’s one of the few plants that also thrive hydroponically; but then you’ll find it in the wild along stream banks.
In the United Kingdom, a watercress festival brings 15,000 visitors annually. Back in the 1940s, Huntsville, Alabama was once known locally as the watercress capital of the world. Today, Oviedo, Florida carries the title.
Along with basic nutrition, cress has many health benefits. Around 1600, English military surgeon John Woodall suggested watercress and other plants could serve as a remedy for scurvy because it is relatively rich in Vitamin C. Many benefits from eating cress include anti-cancer properties, especially lung cancer.
While there are many kinds of cress, I prefer Wrinkled Crinkled Crumpled Cress, which is actually a cross between Persian and curled cress. I love its upright growth habit — makes it easy for cutting — and its unique curly leaves that give a bounce and not-too-peppery flavor to salads, sandwiches, pesto and wraps.
Seeds are easy to find (Fedco, Nichols Garden Nursery and Johnny’s Selected Seeds through Sutliff’s True Value) and you can direct sow or start indoors. Germination happens in a matter of days. In fact, the seedlings are so fast-growing, you can sprout them like radish and alfalfa seeds.
Sown in lines, patches or swaths, cress is ideal for outdoor raised bed or hoophouse cultivation, allowing multiple cuts from a single planting. Even when it starts to bolt, I use the whole plant for making pesto. When cress starts to flower, though, it tends to get bitter.
Along with kale, lettuce, and mustard greens, cress is in my group of early greens to sown in winter.
Here’s a little watercress ditty from Fedco Seeds (fedcoseeds.com):
Salad green that will impress.
Mix some lettuce, add some dress.
Stir it up, sit down and fress.
Banish cares and summer stress.
Cress, Apple and Feta Salad
Our dinner cruise guests love this salad, which you can vary a million ways.
4 cups slightly chopped cress
1 apple or pear, cut into small bits
Lime juice or seasoned rice vinegar
1 cup feta cheese
Toss the first three ingredients in a bowl. Serve topped with feta cheese. Sprinkle with almonds or sesame seeds.
So while my pockets were littered with seeds I felt I’d hit the jackpot. My garden and kitchen are not complete without cress.
Be on the watch for columbine sawfly (stripped leaves)
Thin carrots, beets, radishes and turnips
Sow more mustard greens and lettuce
Stake delphiniums, foxglove, peonies, malva. Not blue poppies—they snap and break off in strong winds.
Train snap peas and sweet peas
Hill potatoes with kelp
Weed and check for slugs
Keep ventilation going in hoophouses and greenhouses 24/7.
To learn and connect with local gardeners, visit the Kodiak Growers Facebook page. Archived copies of Marion’s columns are posted at www.kodiakdailymirror.com. Contact Marion at firstname.lastname@example.org.