Notes from Herb Heaven


This peppery herb and salad ingredient originates in Europe but is now grown in many countries for its invaluable inclusion in kitchen cuisine. This low growing perennial spreads easily and loves moisture. Although it loves to grow in clear running water, it will grow in most wet, shady spots. In hot areas it is best to grow watercress in the winter and in cool areas it can be grown from spring to autumn. Watercress will grow in a container in damp rich soil. Give it the occasional application of well-rotted compost.

Do not let the soil dry out. The water must not be allowed to stagnate, otherwise the plants will die. Drain the water off once a week and top it up with fresh water. Easily grown from seed, it is also propagated by rooted stems. Sow seeds in spring and keep soil moist at all times. Transplant the seedlings when they are about 8 cm tall. Keep them wet. Fertilise the plants every fortnight from spring to summer with a soluble plant food high in nitrogen such as Nitrosol. If watercress fall prey to fungal diseases, remove infected plants.

If the plants have gone to seed, use them on the compost heap, as they will quickly help to break the compost down. The pulped juice of watercress can be applied to a pimple to help the healing process. Apply and wash off after 15 minutes. Watercress is a blood cleanser and eaten often will help to keep the skin clear. High in vitamin C, watercress will help treat scurvy, anaemia, rickets and weak eyesight. It is a stimulating herb and helps improve the circulation. In the kitchen, watercress is used in salads, sandwiches, stir-fries, soups and stews. Steam it with spinach for a nourishing dish. Chop it into batters and sauces.

Watercress Soup

1/4 cup butter
1 leek, thinly sliced
1/2 pound potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
2-1/2 cups chicken stock
Pinch grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large bunches of watercress, cleaned and trimmed, (reserve a few sprigs for garnish) 
4 teaspoons cream 

Melt the butter in a large saucepan 
and cook the leek gently until soft. 

Stir frequently to prevent browning. 
Add the potatoes, stock, nutmeg and seasonings. 
Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer 15 minutes.
Add watercress and simmer an additional 10 minutes.

Cool the soup slightly, then process 
in a food processor or blender until 
the vegetables are finely chopped.

Rinse the saucepan, then strain the soup 
through a fine sieve into the pan.

Push all but the tough stalks through 
the sieve with a wooden spoon.

Season to taste, add the cream, 
and heat gently -- do not boil.

Serve garnished with watercress sprigs and cream.

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