How to Grow Watercress

Learn how to grow heirloom watercress at home, and skip the expensive store-bought variety.

By William Woys Weaver
Updated on March 30, 2023
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by AdobeStock/Fotema

Learn how to grow watercress, indoors or outdoors, using the same methods gardeners have employed with heirloom watercress varieties since the 1870s.

A Brief History of Heirloom Watercress Varieties

Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) is a hardy perennial introduced from Europe in the eighteenth century. General Peter Muhlenberg recognized it growing wild in streams at Valley Forge in 1777 and recommended it for the army then encamped there. It was a much-sought-after salading in the early spring because its vitamin-rich leaves served as an antidote to winter diets lacking green vegetables.

Historically, only one sort of watercress was grown in this country, the common green sort still found naturalized in some streams in eastern parts of the country. It had no commercial varietal name and was considered inferior to Erfurt Sweet Watercress, a German variety introduced into the United States in the early 1870s. In any case, it preferred cool, clear, running streams, and today, where it is still found, it may be used as a measure of water quality. Like trout, watercress will fail in water that is not free of pollution.

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