The Cottage Smallholder

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Watercress (Nasturtium microphyllum)

natural streamI always thought that you needed a stream of running water to grow your own watercress. I discovered that my friend Carol knows where wild watercress grows locally. Despite a bit of gentle pressure she refuses to divulge her secret. I’m not surprised, watercress is expensive. But if you follow Carol and discover her watercress beds, be on your metal. Dirty streams makes watercress unfit to eat. If you wouldn’t drink the water, you shouldn’t eat the watercress.

Unless you can use an entire supermarket pack within a day or so it goes floppy and has to be tossed out. Our compost bin has eaten far more watercress than we have over the past few years.

I used to envy Carol. Imagining her picking up her hat and basket. Breezing off to her secret place to pick just what she needed.

Now I grow my own.

Two years ago I discovered that Thompson and Morgan produce Watercress seeds. These are not available in many garden centres. I found them at Sctotsdales in Shelford but I discovered today that you can buy watercress seed on line direct from the Thompson and Morgan site.

Watercress seeds are quick to germinate. When they are strong plantlets, I pot them on. Five to a 12″ pot. These pots sit in old washing up bowls full of water in a shady spot. I change the water every other day or so, tossing the old water onto anything in the kitchen garden that needs a drink.

When harvesting, just trim the tops of the cress so that the stems will regenerate by producing side shoots. In this way the watercress will spread across the surface of the large pot. I think that I probably plant to many plantlets in each pot. I just want to guarantee a plentiful supply. Watercress can also be grown in the border in soggy trenches. I find the pot method works best for me as it is easier to see if they need to be topped up with water. If you are lucky your pots will give you a decent supply of fresh watercress from early summer until well into the autumn.

Watercress is packed with vitamins (A, C and K). It is a good source of iron and calcium and is full of beneficial glucosinates.

Always wash your watercress well. If you cultivate it in pots in your garden you probably are safe but watercress grown in running water can attract the liver fluke (Fasciola hepatica). This is rare. I saw it first on a returned plate in a London restaurant. We saw the fluke recently in a supermarket pack. The fluke is flat, with loads of legs and you can’t miss it as it is about an inch long.

I wonder if Carol would swap her local knowledge for a pot bursting with hand reared watercress. I’d still like to savour the wild cress as I’m sure that it tastes totally different to the cultivated cress and judging from Carol’s smile it’s absolutely delicious.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Maddy

    The thing that I saw was yellowish, flat, with multiple legs. A nasty sort of beast – probably 25 mm long.

    Thanks for your tips on the eggs, I have always washed my watercress but will now wash it on a more discerning cycle!

  2. It is pretty impossible that the wormy thing you saw was a liver fluke (F.hepatica) as the fluke itself only resides in the bile ducts inside you. Eggs from it are passed faecally and get into the water supply where they form larvae (miricidae) enter the snail host, and free swimming adults are then released (cercariae.) These then form tiny cysts on the leaves of the watercress called metacercariae which you then pop into your mouth with the watercress and munch. The cysts then burrow through your intestines and liver cells into your bile duct to form the adults flukes – oh and these can grow up to 30mm long YUK! So make sure you wash watercress very thoroughly!

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Simon

    I didn’t know that snails carry liver fluke. Thanks for the tip!

    I did grow watercress in my pond last summer but it didn’t grow nearly as well as the cress that I grew in pots that kept us in watercress for months.

  4. A word of advice if your growing watercress in your pond, ponds atract snails that can carry liver fluke, a very unpleasant disease.

  5. Fiona Nevile


    Glad to hear there were no ill effects from eating the pond watercress. My watercress plants are still tiny. It will be a good few weeks before they reach my pond.

    The idea of washing them well in salted water seems like good sense to me.

  6. One-Ten

    Well, I’ve suffered no ill effects (so far) after eating watercress from the pond.

    I did wash it rather thoroughly in brine, and stand it in fresh water overnight. It should also be noted that the water in my pond is well oxygenated, clear(ish) and my frogs seem satisfied with its quality.

    The watercress was pretty good too. Lots of flavour, more peppery that the stuff you get from the supermarket.

  7. Fiona Nevile

    Hi One-Ten. I think that your pond cress would be edible but potted and sitting in clean water. Thompson and Morgan say keep the water topped up, I change the water every day or so just to be on the safe side.

    I wouldn’t fancy drinking the water from our pond either! Although I’m going to put some cress in our pond just to see what it looks like.

  8. One-Ten

    I’m sure that would work. A couple of years ago I took a handful of leftover watercress (from the greengrocer) and threw it in the pond, as an experiment. Within weeks it was threatening to take over the pond.

    I grow it because it makes an attractive pond plant, but I’ve never eaten it because, well, I wouldn’t drink the water in my pond, given a choice. I thought it had to have the running water to make it fit for consumption, but the Thomson and Morgan site makes me wonder if my pond cress might be edible after all?

  9. Fiona Nevile

    A friend of mine said that if you collect watercress as near to the source of a river or stream as possible it is easier to check whether the water is polluted.

    A reader from New Jersey suggested taking some wild watercress, rooting in a jam jar and then growing it on in pots in the garden (sitting in water as described above).

  10. There’s plenty of watercress in the ditches around me (the other side of Suffolk, near the border with Norfolk), but I’ve never dared to eat it, fearing that the water might be contaminated – by pesticides, dead animals upstream, rats etc. Recently, though, I’ve been wondering why watercress, properly washed, should be any worse than any other wild food plant that might well draw on the same water. I wouldn’t hesitate to eat blackberries (or wild hops) growing beside the same streams.

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