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Toxic parts

Whilst the plant is very wholesome and nutritious, some care should be taken if harvesting it from the wild. Any plants growing in water that drains from fields where animals, particularly sheep, graze should not be used raw. This is due to the risk of it being infested with the liver fluke parasite[1][2]. Cooking the leaves, however, will destroy any parasites and render the plant perfectly safe to eat[2].

Edible uses


Leaves - raw or cooked[3][1][4][5][6][7]. Water cress is mainly used as a garnish or as an addition to salads, the flavour is strong with a characteristic hotness[8]. It has a reputation as a spring tonic, and this is its main season of use, though it can be harvested for most of the year and can give 10 pickings annually[9]. Some caution is advised if gathering the plant from the wild, see the notes above on toxicity. The leaves are exceptionally rich in vitamins and minerals, especially iron[10]. A nutritional analysis is available[11].

The seed can be sprouted and eaten in salads[8]. A hot mustardy flavour[K].

The seed is ground into a powder and used as a mustard[12][8]. The pungency of mustard develops when cold water is added to the ground-up seed - an enzyme (myrosin) acts on a glycoside (sinigrin) to produce a sulphur compound. The reaction takes 10 - 15 minutes. Mixing with hot water or vinegar, or adding salt, inhibits the enzyme and produces a mild but bitter mustard[9].

Unknown part


Material uses

The juice of the plant is a nicotine solvent and is used as such on strong tobaccos[4].

Unknown part

Medicinal uses(Warning!)

Watercress is very rich in vitamins and minerals, and has long been valued as a food and medicinal plant[13]. Considered a cleansing herb, its high content of vitamin C makes it a remedy that is particularly valuable for chronic illnesses[13]. The leaves are antiscorbutic, depurative, diuretic, expectorant, purgative, hypoglycaemic, odontalgic, stimulant and stomachic[14][4][5][15][12][16][9]. The plant has been used as a specific in the treatment of TB[14]. The freshly pressed juice has been used internally and externally in the treatment of chest and kidney complaints, chronic irritations and inflammations of the skin etc[5]. Applied externally, it has a long-standing reputation as an effective hair tonic, helping to promote the growth of thick hair[2]. A poultice of the leaves is said to be an effective treatment for healing glandular tumours or lymphatic swellings[2]. Some caution is advised, excessive use of the plant can lead to stomach upsets[5][15]. The leaves can be harvested almost throughout the year and are used fresh[9].


Ecosystem niche/layer

Ecological Functions

Nothing listed.


Nothing listed.


Nothing listed.


Seed - sow spring in a pot emmersed to half its depth in water. Germination should take place within a couple of weeks. Prick out seedlings into individual pots whilst they are still small and increase the depth of water gradually until they are submerged. Plant out into a pond in the summer. Cuttings can be taken at any time in the growing season. Virtually any part of the plant, including a single leaf, will form roots if detached from the parent plant[17]. Just put it in a container of water until the roots are well formed and then plant out in shallow water.

Practical Plants is currently lacking information on propagation instructions of Nasturtium officinale. Help us fill in the blanks! Edit this page to add your knowledge.


Watercress is easily grown when given the correct conditions of slowly flowing clean water, preferably coming from chalky or limestone soils[18]. It prefers to grow in water about 5cm deep[19] with an optimum pH 7.2[10]. Plants can be grown in wet soil if the position is somewhat shaded and protection is given in winter, though the flavour may be hotter[7][19].

Hardy to about -15°c[10]. Watercress is often cultivated for its edible leaves, there are some named varieties[6][8]. The plant is very sensitive to pollution so a clean source of water is required[10]. Plants will often continue to grow all through mild winters. A fast-growing plant, the stems trail along the ground or float in water and produce new roots at the leaf nodes, thus making the plant very easy to propagate vegetatively[9]. Unfortunately, virus diseases have become more common in cultivated plants and so most propagation is carried out by seed[18]. This is a diploid species. It has hybridised naturally in the wild with the triploid species N. microphyllum to produce the sterile hybrid N. x sterilis which is also commonly cultivated as a salad crop[18].

The flowers are a rich source of pollen and so are very attractive to bees[4].


Problems, pests & diseases

Associations & Interactions

There are no interactions listed for Nasturtium officinale. Do you know of an interaction that should be listed here? edit this page to add it.

Polycultures & Guilds

There are no polycultures listed which include Nasturtium officinale.




None listed.


None listed.

Full Data

This table shows all the data stored for this plant.

Binomial name
Nasturtium officinale
Imported References
Material uses & Functions
Edible uses
  • Unknown part (Condiment)
  • Leaves (Unknown use)
  • Seed (Unknown use)
Material uses
  • Unknown part (Hair care)
Medicinal uses
  • Unknown part (Antiscorbutic)
  • Unknown part (Depurative)
  • Unknown part (Diuretic)
  • Unknown part (Expectorant)
  • Unknown part (Hypoglycaemic)
  • Unknown part (Odontalgic)
  • Unknown part (Purgative)
  • Unknown part (Stimulant)
  • Unknown part (Stomachic)
  • Unknown part (TB)
Functions & Nature
Provides forage for
Provides shelter for
Hardiness Zone
Heat Zone
full sun
no shade
Soil PH
Soil Texture
Soil Water Retention
Environmental Tolerances
    Native Climate Zones
    None listed.
    Adapted Climate Zones
    None listed.
    Native Geographical Range
    None listed.
    Native Environment
    None listed.
    Ecosystem Niche
    None listed.
    Root Zone Tendancy
    None listed.
    Deciduous or Evergreen
    Herbaceous or Woody
    Life Cycle
    Growth Rate
    Mature Size
    Flower Colour
    Flower Type


    1. ? Mabey. R. Food for Free. Collins ISBN 0-00-219060-5 (1974-00-00)
    2. ? Phillips. R. & Foy. N. Herbs Pan Books Ltd. London. ISBN 0-330-30725-8 (1990-00-00)
    3. ? 3.03.1 Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World. Dover Publications ISBN 0-486-20459-6 (1972-00-00)
    4. ? Chiej. R. Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants. MacDonald ISBN 0-356-10541-5 (1984-00-00)
    5. ? Launert. E. Edible and Medicinal Plants. Hamlyn ISBN 0-600-37216-2 (1981-00-00)
    6. ? Simons. New Vegetable Growers Handbook. Penguin ISBN 0-14-046-050-0 (1977-00-00)
    7. ? Vilmorin. A. The Vegetable Garden. Ten Speed Press ISBN 0-89815-041-8 ()
    8. ? Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants. Kampong Publications ISBN 0-9628087-0-9 (1990-00-00)
    9. ? Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses. Dorling Kindersley, London. ISBN 0-7513-020-31 (1995-00-00)
    10. ? Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992. MacMillan Press ISBN 0-333-47494-5 (1992-00-00)
    11. ? 11.011.1 Duke. J. A. and Ayensu. E. S. Medicinal Plants of China Reference Publications, Inc. ISBN 0-917256-20-4 (1985-00-00)
    12. ? Uphof. J. C. Th. Dictionary of Economic Plants. Weinheim (1959-00-00)
    13. ? Chevallier. A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants Dorling Kindersley. London ISBN 9-780751-303148 (1996-00-00)
    14. ? Grieve. A Modern Herbal. Penguin ISBN 0-14-046-440-9 (1984-00-00)
    15. ? Lust. J. The Herb Book. Bantam books ISBN 0-553-23827-2 (1983-00-00)
    16. ? 16.016.1 Foster. S. & Duke. J. A. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants. Eastern and Central N. America. Houghton Mifflin Co. ISBN 0395467225 (1990-00-00)
    17. ? Muhlberg. H. Complete Guide to Water Plants. E. P. Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-7158-0789-7 (1982-00-00)
    18. ? Phillips. R. & Rix. M. Vegetables Macmillan Reference Books, London. ISBN 0 333 62640 0 (1995-00-00)
    19. ? 19.019.1 Thompson. B. The Gardener's Assistant. Blackie and Son. (1878-00-00)
    20. ? Clapham, Tootin and Warburg. Flora of the British Isles. Cambridge University Press (1962-00-00)

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