Watercress is often placed to the side of a plate as a decorative garnish, but it has been revered for its health properties for centuries.
The father of medicine, Hippocrates, is believed to have located his first hospital close to a freshwater stream to have a ready supply of the plant, while 17th Century herbalist Culpeper claimed it could cleanse the blood. It was used to ‘cure’ ailments such as baldness, hiccups and even freckles.
While these health claims may be debatable, watercress is packed with 15 essential vitamins and minerals. Now, scientists believe a daily dose may help combat breast cancer.
This month, researchers at Southampton University discovered that within hours of eating 3oz of watercress a day – about a full cereal bowl – a small group of breast cancer survivors had a higher level of cancer-fighting molecules in their blood.
They found the compound phenethyl isothiocyanate – which gives watercress its peppery taste – blocks the hypoxia-inducible factor protein which helps cancer tumours grow.