Foraging judiciously for delicious edible plants in the wilds is a great way to get in touch with nature and add a little environmentally friendly wow factor to your dinner table. Every spring, it seems, people traipse through woodlands on a culinary quest for fiddleheads, ramps and dandelion greens, and summer lures into the forests and fields for morels and other wild mushrooms, and raspberries, wild blueberries, serviceberries and, if you live in Newfoundland, bakeapples. And, if you are lucky you can add another item to nature’s shopping cart the next time you’re foraging in the woods near a cold stream; watercress.
Most watercress we access is grown commercially, much of it hydroponically, but it grows prolifically in the wild too. Watercress, originally native to Europe now thrives in North America. In fact, Huntsville Alabama has proclaimed itself the Watercress Capital of the World! A member of the brassicaceae family which also includes radishes and mustard, it is a semi-aquatic plant that always grows near streams and shady brooks. It’s peppery, radish-like flavour adds a piquant note to salads and soups and it is a great, lively addition to a sandwich that would otherwise have lettuce or sprouts.
Not only is it delicious, watercress, like most leafy greens is good for you; low in calories and high in vitamins, watercress in particular is a good source of vitamins A, C and K, beta-carotene and minerals like calcium, iron, and magnesium.
Recently our friend Ilona Daniel, a chef, educator and good food activist now in Prince Edward Island posted some photos of wild watercress she came across while hiking. Ilona likes to use watercress in salads, or just wilted with a little butter, and in dainty tea sandwiches with chevre and cucumber.
If you do forage for wild edibles, in the woods, meadows or fields, always remember to respect the local environment and leave the ecosystem intact as much as possible. Never clear out an entire area of one species, but rather pick a little here and there, leaving as much of the plants as possible to grow and thrive. Here is a great list of other outdoor edibles that you can add to your diet, as well as some tips on foraging them.
And even if you do not plan on heading out to the woods anytime soon to hunt for your own watercress, you can always find it on our shelves, ready to be made into a a dainty tramezzini to serve at your next tea-party, or given this seemingly endless hot summer and the plethora of cucumbers overtaking our gardens, how about a cold cucumber and watercress soup? Doesn’t that sound delicious right about now?
Cold Cucumber and Watercress Soup
3 medium cucumbers
1 ½ cups watercress, firmly packed
small bunch of dill, stems removed
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup yogurt
salt and pepper to taste
Possible garnishes: Drizzle of olive oil, sprigs of dill, mint leaves, chopped radish, crumbled feta cheese, yogurt, chopped chives or scallions. Peel the cucumbers and slice them lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and chop. Puree in a food processor or blender until smooth. Add the watercress, half of the dill (saving the rest for garnish) vinegar, salt and oil and puree until smooth. Pour soup into a large bowl and stir in yogurt. Season to taste. Chill for a few hours while the soup is in the fridge. Garnish to your liking and serve cold.