Other Names: American cress, garden cress, Indian cress, nasturtium, pepper cress, Peruvian cress, winter cress, yellow rocket.

General Description: Cress is a common name for more than a dozen sharp, pungent, small-leafed plants from various families of which watercress (Nasturtium officinale) is the most well-known. Watercress has been eaten since ancient times, but has only been cultivated since the 19th
century. Its Latin name, Nasturtium, comes from nasum tortus, meaning “twisted nose,” because of its sharp, peppery kick. Succulent watercress grows wild alongside slow-running waterways in Britain, Europe, Asia, and America.

Upland cress (Barbarea verna) grows on dry land and has a cloverlike leaf. Its flavor is close to watercress with a mild flavor, lingering sharpness, and delicate, peppery taste. It has an elegant look because of its tiny leaves and fragility. It is grown for market in micro and mini sizes for salads and decorative garnishes.

Garden cress (Lepidium sativum) is a large group of cresses of African origin, with a hot-sweet peppery bite like horseradish, including curly, golden, broadleaf, and common cress. These cresses are raised as tiny sprouts for use as a salad green or garnish.

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) is grown both for its delicious gold to scarlet blossoms and its lily pad-shaped leaves. It originated in South America, was brought from Peru to Europe in the late 17th century, and now grows proliferously in the south of France.

Season: Watercress is available year-round. Other cresses are occasionally available.

Purchase: Purchase watercress with deep green whole leaves. Other cresses are generally hydroponically grown and sold with their root-balls attached. They should be perky and have a peppery aroma.

Avoid: Sniff watercress and avoid any with an unpleasant smell.

Storage: For watercress, remove the rubber band holding it together, stand the stems in water, cover with a plastic bag, and refrigerate. Or wash, spin dry, and refrigerate in a plastic bag for up to 3 to 4 days. Store hydroponically grown cresses complete with their root-balls in a plastic bag for up to 3 to 4 days.


  1. Soak in cold water to revive tired leaves.
  2. Wash under cool running water.
  3. Pat dry with paper towels or place in a salad spinner.
  4. Trim small cresses away from their root-balls with scissors. For salad or quick cooking, trim watercress leaves and discard the larger tough stems. If making soup, retain the stems.

Serving Suggestions: Blend watercress, scallions, and yogurt or buttermilk and serve with salmon. Serve watercress as a bed for roast beef or roast chicken so that it wilts and absorbs the juices. Combine sprigs of watercress, orange or ruby grapefruit segments, and toasted almonds with shreds of Chinese barbecued duck meat or confit of duck, then dress with sherry vinegar and virgin olive oil.

Flavor Affinities: Buttermilk, cucumber, egg, goat cheese, mushrooms, potatoes, rice, roasted meats, tofu, tomatoes, yogurt.

from Quirk Books: