All of it! The entire watercress plant is edible – leaves, stalks and even the flowers. Only the roots are best discarded as they don’t taste great! Everything else can be eaten raw or added to your favourite dish to add that classic peppery flavour.
The fact that watercress flowers at all, let alone that they can be eaten, may come as a surprise to many. The flowers aren’t often seen in the watercress bags sold in supermarkets. The retailers wrongly perceive them to be a quality issue and worry that they affect the taste of the watercress. While this is true of lettuce which can become bitter when they run to flower or ‘bolt’, watercress flowers are delicately peppery, and a flowering plant is still delicious.
The flowers could even be added to a dish, not just to consume, but to simply make it look pretty! Edible flowers such as the distant cousin to watercress, Nasturtium are regularly added by chefs to not only improve the flavour but its visual appeal.
The pretty, delicate watercress flower comes in white clusters that provide a mouthful in their own right!
Of course, the more usual parts of watercress to feast upon are the leaves and stalks. This luscious green vegetation contains the maximum peppery kick watercress fans love, and which is the root to most of its health credentials.
Watercress is a source of a number of phytochemicals including lutein, quercetin, phenolic acids, and glucosinolates. The latter release isothiocyanates, including phenylethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), of which watercress is the richest known source. PEITC is a key contributor to the distinctive peppery tang of watercress and in a large number of scientific studies has been shown to have a range of anti-cancer effects. In this scenario – peppery is definitely good!
Watercress needs to be kept cold. Once purchased, you should place your bag in the coldest part of the fridge and ideally eat it the same day you buy it in order to get maximum health and nutritional benefits. If your watercress is starting to turn yellow, it's normally due to being kept somewhere too warm or it’s past its best.
Bags of washed watercress bought from a supermarket need very little preparation before being eaten, however if you are using bunches you will need to remove the lower half of the stems as they are likely to be tough and have probably been damaged from the elastic band used to tie them together. If you are using unwashed product, simply wash the watercress in cold water and then drain, either in a colander or using a salad spinner.
Watercress that is packed into a bag and sold in supermarkets is entirely edible. Unlike other greens such as kale or spinach when the stalks would generally be removed, watercress stalks are included in salad bags and leaves and stalks are eaten in their entirety. Raymond Blanc, does however, advise in his watercress soup recipe that “Watercress varies in its intensity of flavour. If your watercress is very peppery, cut off the entire stalk, but if it is mild, retain some of the stalk.”
Spinach and kale are both popular ingredients for smoothies, however, the thickness of the leaves and stalks can sometimes make the consistency of the smoothie more gloopy than you might like. Watercress, (stalks and all), blends beautifully with the other ingredients as in this tasty Watercress, Mango & Pineapple Smoothie leaving none of the leathery leftovers you might find with other greens.
In just the same way that spinach is often wilted into pastas so can watercress and in fact it imparts a stronger flavour with its distinct peppery taste, adding, in our opinion a lot more to the dish! Try this delicious smoked salmon and watercress pasta dish to see how well watercress complements naturally hot horseradish with fish.
So what part of watercress can you eat? All of it! And in so many mouth-wateringly wonderful ways!