Cress

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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 Davidson reminds us, to the “nose-twisting” quality of watercress implied by nasturtium, which means exactly that. Watercress is not at all related to the flower nasturtium. I have never tasted nasturtium blooms (or greens) and have no intention of doing so.

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.

Davidson, in a memorable paragraph, collects notable examples of the use of watercress as a folk nostrum or medicinal: “… the Greek general made his soldiers eat it as a tonic. The Romans and Anglo-Saxons both ate it to avert baldness. Gerard (1633) recommended watercress as a remedy for that now forgotten disease ‘greensickness of maidens.’ Francis Bacon advised that it would restore youth to ageing women; and so on.”

*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.

Edith Cresson, first woman premier of France (1991–1992), asserted publicly that one in four British men are homosexual and that the Japanese economy flourished because the Japanese were like ants.

†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).

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