Garden Cress and its Natural Health Benefits
Garden cress (Lepidium sativum) is a fast-growing, edible plant related to watercress. It’s in the genus Lepidium in the mustard family and shares the tangy pepper flavor of mustard greens. Garden cress is also known as pepper cress, pepper grass or pepperwort. Cress tastes somewhat like radishes. There are both smooth and curled leaf varieties. Garden cress is a reseeding annual plant that drops its seed back into the soil and lays dormant until the following year. Cress can be grown in full sun to partial shade. Its seeds are light-germinating, usually sprouting within 2 to 4 days. It has long leaves at the bottom of the stem and small, bright-green, feathery leaves on opposite sides at the top. Garden cresses have orange, white, or light-pink colored flowers that are very decorative and also produce fruits which, when immature, are very much like capers. Garden cress can grow to a height of two feet with very little maintenance in the garden, but the edible shoots are usually harvested a week or two after germination.
Cress is an easy to grow plant with very few requirements. It can be broadcast after the winter frosts or throughout the year in temperate climates. Cress will grow in just about any soil but it must be watered well; seeds and plants should be kept moist at all times. Direct sow seed in early spring or late summer through fall. Cress may not do well growing among other plants in the garden as its oil will likely interfere with the growth of other plants. Cress may bolt in summer heat rather quickly, without making any greens, as it’s a cool weather vegetable. Cress can also be grown year around in a windowsill pot, where it will often have a milder flavor. Harvest cress when young; 4″ to 6″ in height for sandwiches and salad greens. Sowing should be repeated every two to three weeks so that there are plenty of young shoots and new leaves for salads. The older leaves of earlier sowings begin to get tough and are not as good as the tender young shoots. They may be cooked as greens at this stage. The seed usually sprouts within a week after sowing, depending on the season, and the leaves are ready to eat within a week or two.
Garden cress is suitable for cultivation in very moist soil or even under water and thrives in a slightly alkaline environment. Cress can actually be grown without any soil, by using moist paper towels or wet cotton balls. This is a fun way to introduce children to the joys of planting a garden. Wet two paper towels and set them on a pie pan. Sprinkle the cress seeds on the wet paper towels and place pan in a window with good light, preferably a south-facing window. Check daily and keep the towels moist. In about three or four days, the plants should be about ½” high. Continue to keep the paper moist and when they reach 3″ to 4″, cut with scissors and eat them on an egg sandwich.
Cress is an important leafy green vegetable, most typically used as a garnish or as salad greens. Both the leaves and stems of young cress sprouts can be eaten. Use fresh as cress does not keep long. Cress is most often used raw in sandwiches and salads with other mixed greens. Cress is also used for spreads (especially in cottage cheese or cream cheese). Homemade bread and butter with fresh cress leaves is delicious as well. Chopped cress leaves are sometimes used to top vegetable soups or scrambled eggs. Cress leaves are not commonly used with other fresh herbs except maybe with chives.
Garden cress has significant amounts of iron, calcium, folic acid, and vitamins A, E, and C. Garden cress seeds are very nutritious as well. The seed contains fatty acids and are high in calories and protein. There are many benefits to eating garden cress. Garden cress is used as a mild stimulant, a source of phytochemicals and antioxidants, a diuretic, an expectorant and a digestive aide. Garden cress also helps purify blood and stimulate appetite. When taken regularly, cress helps to alleviate anemia as well. It is used during constipation as a laxative and a purgative. Paste made of the seeds can be taken internally with honey to treat amoebic dysentery. The germinating seeds soothes the irritation of the intestines in dysentery and diarrhea. Garden cress seeds are good expectorants and are chewed to treat sore throat, cough, asthma and headache. The plants parts are used in the treatment of asthma and cough. Garden cress seeds are also great memory boosters because they contain arachidic and linoleic acids.
Cress is a good natural source of vitamins and minerals for new mothers. Cress is said to help regulate the menstrual cycle, and cress seeds help increase milk production and secretion in lactating mothers. Because of its high iron and protein content, it is good for post-partum and lactating mothers. Garden cress is also said to help improve libido (sex drive) in new mothers. Garden cress crushed and mixed with hot water is a good colic treatment for infants. One side-effect of cress is that it is an abortifacient [substance that induces abortion], if used in excess, so garden cress should always be eaten in moderation if you are pregnant or trying to conceive.
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- Gardening in Mississippi and the South: August and September (gofishministries.wordpress.com)
- Keeping children safe in the garden (telegraph.co.uk)
- Seed Saving From Your Garden (farmfoodieandfitness.com)