12: Episode 12 – Superplants – Watercress

Watercress is a great plant for anyone to grow. Super easy to grow and propagate. You can also forage for it in the wild.

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Superplants – Watercress

Today, we’re talking about one of my favorite plants. It’s a plant I’m very, very passionate about and that is watercress. It’s a plant that I love so much for so many different reasons.
It’s such a utility plant. It serves so many purposes. It’s so easy to propagate. It’s so easy to grow. It’s easy to harvest. You can find it in the wild. You can grow it yourself. It really is a fantastic plant.

Growing Your Own Watercress

The first thing I’m going to talk about is growing your own watercress. It is the easiest plant in the world to grow; you can grow from seed or you can grow it from any part of the plant itself. In nature, different plants have different characteristics. There are some plants that can only be propagated from their seeds. There are some plants that can be propagated from cuttings of a certain part of the plant, be that a stem or a root cutting. There are some plants that can be tip-layered. Some plants that can be divided. There are some plants that you can create new ones purely from a part of the leaf. Watercress is one of those plants that you can do all of those things with.

When I was talking about the different ways plants propagate, it’s to do with which part of the plant contains, effectively, the equivalent of stem cells. Within a raspberry plant, for example, the stems, if you tip layer them, contain all the genetic ingredients, all the coding, to create a new raspberry plant. Every part of that plant has all the coding it needs to create the roots and the stems, the leaves, and the fruit. With watercress, every single part of the plant has that information. So, you could literally take a piece of watercress that you bought in the supermarket and you could chop it up on a chopping board and every single piece is a potential new plant. That in itself for me is just an amazing thing and it’s one that we as self-sufficient gardeners can utilize.

But it gets better. It just gets better and better, because not only are every part of this plant viable to create a new plant with, but, in addition, it’s super easy to do. You don’t need to make a seedbed compost. You don’t need to expose it to rooting hormone or anything like that. The propagation process is literally as simple as throwing it in some water. You can literally take some Watercress from the supermarket, throw it in your pond or throw it in a water butt, and it will grow new plants from it. That’s just a gift we should all be utilizing. I strongly recommend that everybody has some growing in their water butts, and if you have a pond or any other areas, I strongly recommend you have some growing there too.

Guerilla Gardening

You can also do guerrilla gardening with it. You can introduce it to a pond or a stream near you. Please be aware of what that might do to the local ecology and infrastructure of the environment in that area. So, if you’re in an area where it’s not a native plant, then maybe you shouldn’t be doing that. But if it’s native to where you live, then you can take some from one part of a river and introduce it to just somewhere a bit closer to you, if that’s what fits. Once you have it growing, it’s as you might imagine, much of a “cut and come again” plant. You can just keep harvesting it and harvesting it and harvesting it. It’s a perennial, so it will stay there through the winter. You might not want to harvest it in the winter to give it every chance of surviving, but it all depends on how much you’ve grown.

The Uses of Watercress

It’s a great plant to grow yourself, because it’s so easy to do. Another reason it’s such a great plant is what it does in the kitchen. For me, it makes a great salad. I quite often have it as the only part of a salad. I’ll have a big bowl of watercress. Maybe I’ll throw some lemon juice in there. Maybe I’ll throw a little bit of olive oil in there and boom, that’s it – a great tasty salad. But also, you can cook it; if you blanch it, it becomes a cooked vegetable green. So, it’s a very versatile plant in the kitchen as well.

Foraging For Watercress

The final thing I have to say is that it’s also findable in the wild, as you’ve probably gathered by now. It’s something you can go foraging for and that’s another great tool in this plant’s arsenal, is that it can be cultivated domestically, commercially, but it can also grow in the wild. It’s a great thing to go foraging for I love foraging anyway, so the fact that I can forage for one of my favorite plants and maybe bring that home and introduce it to an enclosed, captive space at my house – wow, you know, what could be better.

There is something that is very important to be aware of though, if you are foraging for watercress, and I suppose also to be aware of even if you’re growing it on your own property depending on your property and your layout and where you are. There is a propensity within watercress for it to hold liver flukes; these are little parasites that live in sheep and can also live in humans and they can actually be quite harmful to you.

So, whenever you’re foraging for watercress, my advice is to only use that watercress for cooking. If you find it in the wild, only use it for cooking. If you have sheep on your property, like I do, and the water course that you’re taking them from is in any way downstream from that sheeps run, or in any way possibly connected to it, again only use it for cooking it. Not as much of an issue if you’re growing it and you have sheep, if you’re growing in a water butt or something like that, because there can’t really be any cross-contamination. If you’re in the wild though and you’re foraging, I strongly advise that you cook it, even if you can’t see any sheep, because there can be sheep upstream out of view. There could have been sheep right next to that little stream that you’re in, just three months ago, and they’re not there now. So, it’s always advisable, in my opinion, to take wild watercress and blanch it before you eat it.

Using a Multi-Pond System

We also use watercress in a multi-pond system. What our set up is, or will be when it’s complete, is we have three ponds. One of them is exclusively for watercress. So, in that pond, we just grow watercress. That pond feeds down into another pond, which is predominantly growing duckweed. And then that pond feeds up into the top pond, which grows a couple of edible plants around the outside of it, but is predominantly for growing fish that are
for the table. What happens is the fish excrement effectively is fertilizer for our watercress
and then our duckweed, and the duckweed and watercress both filter the water before it goes back to the fish, and the duckweed feeds the geese and the ducks. So, it works great in a multi-pond system like that.

Final Thoughts

That’s watercress. I strongly recommend you get some. It can be cultivated from seed and, again, that’s very easy to do. I bought a packet of seeds when I first started looking into it, before I realized how easy it was to propagate from the plant itself and they all came to fruition very easily. If, for whatever reason, you find it hard to get hold of fresh watercress, then maybe buying seeds is the way you go.

What I recommend you do, if you’re just starting out and you haven’t got any yet, is you just buy a bag from the supermarket. It’s not very often I’ll advocate buying a bag of food from the supermarket. Or better still, go and forage it. But if you can’t forage any and, for whatever reason, you can’t get hold of the seeds, go out and buy a bag of watercress and boom – that’s it; you’re set up. Turn half of it into an amazing salad and put the other half into a water butt or a bit of a pond or even a bucket of water outside, and that is starting your cycle of perpetual watercress production at home. What a great feeling that is.