Watercress is, as you have always thought, a cress that grows in watery places. I have seen it bent forward by the current of a fast-flowing stream in the Oxfordshire village of Ewhelme. Like you, I, too, have enjoyed its peppery tang, which reminds some people of mustard, another distant member of the enormous Cruciferae family. The scientific name, Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum, alludes, as
Watercress, and other closely related herbs, grow all over the world, often wild. Soup is their destiny in almost every culture that eats them. We in the West also eat them raw in salads and sandwiches. French* authorities claim they also prepare them like spinach and make purees of them bolstered by pureed potato or peas.
*In the name of full disclosure I feel I must mention that the French word for watercress, cresson, has an adjective applied in formal menus to dishes containing said herb, viz., à la cressonière, very similar in form to the adjective for bush (buisson/buissonière), as in burning bush, buis ardent. To attend l’école buissonière is to play hooky, presumably by hiding in the bushes.
†Also known as chlorosis, “a disease mostly affecting young females about the age of puberty, characterized by anæmia, suppression or irregularity of the menses, and a pale or greenish complexion; green sickness” (OED).
© 2007 Raymond Sokolov. All rights reserved.