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Watercress Nasturtium officinale Watercress Nasturtium officinale is one of the oldest plants known to man A Greek proverb went eat cress and gain more wit because it was thought to be a brain stimulant Watercress has been used not only to sharpen mental acuity but as an antiscorbutic in ancient days The Romans introduced it in Europe It was much cultivated in the middle ages as the basic ingredient in a salve thought to be effective with sword wounds Since the Roman times watercress has been recognized as an important salad plant It was also eaten to prevent scurvy because it is rich in vitamin C and minerals General Peter Muhlenberg recognized it growing wild in streams at Valley Forge in 1777 and recommended it for the army encamped there It was a much sought after ingredient for salads in the early spring because its vitamin-rich leaves served as an antidote to winter diets lacking green vegetables Strangely enough watercress has been considered an effective hair tonic when used externally and the juice from the crushed leaves were recommended for clearing blemishes and freckles Watercress is a part of the mustard family a common name for the large family of pungent-juiced herbs The family contains about 390 genera and 3000 species It is cosmopolitan in distribution with centers of diversity in the Mediterranean region and southwestern and Central Asia where about two-thirds of the species occur The mustard family contains a great variety of food plants but they do not form important parts of staple diets Best known are the salad and vegetable crops such as cabbage cauliflower brussels sprouts and broccoli The family is also an important source of vegetable oils ranking fifth in worldwide importance behind soybeans cottonseed peanuts and sunflower Most members of the mustard family are annual or perennial herbs Watercress is a perennial with peppery flavor After the flower buds bloom the leaves
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