A Summer Hike's Free Food: Foraging for Wild Watercress

Foraging for wild watercress: Turn a summer hike into a grocery shopping expedition with bushels of free food for the gathering


| July/August 1982



076-010-01

In the case of watercress, you'll be looking for a floating and/or creeping plant with leaves made up of three to five oval-shaped leaflets.


ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

Turn a summer hike into a free grocery "shopping" expedition foraging for wild watercress. 

Foraging For Wild Watercress

This plant is delicious and a literal storehouse of vitamins (A, C, and E, to name a few) and minerals. It's available free for the gathering in almost every inhabited part of the world . . . and certainly in every state of the Union and the most heavily settled sections of Canada. And, best of all, it's harvestable year round in the southern half of this country . . . and during every month but January in the majority of our northern states.

The rather amazing wild food I'm talking about is watercress (Nasturtium officinale). And unless a friend has pointed it out to you, you could well have walked right past bushels of the "weed" on any tramp through the woods that took you along a stream, spring, small lake, or other body of water.

My husband and I "discovered" watercress quite by accident one day while out on a walk. We had just found our dog cooling himself in a branch of a small spring . . . when we realized that he was sitting up to his elbows in this pungent member of the mustard family. And to think: If it hadn't been for our "guide", we'd most surely have overlooked a small fortune (at supermarket prices) of the cress.

Nasturtium officinale was originally brought to the New World by immigrants from Europe. It's so hearty, however, that it soon "jumped the garden fence" and spread throughout the continent. Nowadays, it can be found along rivers and streams, around springs and ponds and lakes, and in marshes or low, wet areas . . . anyplace, in short, that you find water.

There's no better way to learn to identify watercress than to go down to the fresh foods section of the nearest grocery store and either purchase or take a good, long look at one of the packages of cress on sale there. As Euell Gibbons always said, "You don't need to learn about all the plants you don't want to forage. Just know—really know—the few you do want to harvest from the wilds."





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