Can You Eat Watercress Raw?

Fozia Sherazi, Dr of Dietetics and Nutritional Sciences

Written by Fozia Sherazi, Dr of Dietetics and Nutritional Sciences. Updated on March 12, 2023.

Nasturtium officinale (previously Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum) belongs to the Brassicaceae (mustard) family and is often known as watercress.

It is closely related to Brassicaceae leafy greens such as arugula, kale, and cabbage.

It is a fast-growing, perennial herbaceous plant that thrives in aquatic environments.

It is distinguished by its hollow stalks, pinnately compound leaves, and tiny flowers.

One-row yellowcress (Nasturtium microphyllum) is a closely related species also considered watercress.

N. officinale is commonly known as green watercress, but N. microphyllum is brown or winter.

Small to medium in size, the watercress is characterized by its numerous leaflets and its thin stems that emerge from a dense mat of roots.

Each stem may reach a height of 20–25 centimeters, and it can grow from 3–9 leaflets that are oval to spherical and have scalloped edges.

This dark green plant’s hollow stems may spread across land and water over time.

In addition to its leaves, mature watercress produces bunches of aromatic white flowers and several small pods containing edible seeds.

When fresh, watercress has an intense aroma and a bitter, peppery, and sour flavor.

The spicy taste will lessen slightly after cooking.

Watercress is a winter plant that is usually consumed as lettuce.

Watercress grows naturally in ponds and streams, and it’s easy to find it growing in the wild. It’s also grown commercially using hydroponics.

Watercress is adaptable since its strong, peppery flavor makes it suitable for raw and cooked dishes.

Watercress is one of the oldest green leafy vegetables and one of the most common greens eaten today.

Watercress originated in Central and Southern Europe and spread throughout the world, where it can be found in rivers, lakes, ponds, and other water sources.

It is widely grown and eaten in Asian countries like China, Japan, and Korea.

Today, watercress is found in many dishes, from salads to soups, and it can be eaten either raw or cooked.

Can You Eat Watercress Raw?

Watercress is a versatile leafy green that can be eaten raw or cooked. You can cook it raw in salads, sandwiches, wraps, soups, and stir-fries.

Raw watercress has a mild peppery flavor and is crunchy, making it ideal for adding texture to salads. Additionally, raw watercress can be blended with other ingredients to make a healthy green smoothie or juice.

When cooked, watercress is still nutritious but has a milder flavor and a softer texture.

Cooked watercress is delicious in omelets, pasta, soups, stews, and casseroles. Raw watercress has a spicy and peppery taste that might be uncomfortable for some people.

Slightly blanching watercress leaves can mellow out its flavor and texture while retaining most nutrients.

Blanching the leaves can make the texture more palatable and the flavor milder.

Additionally, blanching watercress can help reduce the presence of toxins that may occur in the raw leaves.

This process also helps preserve the nutrient content and make it more readily available for absorption.

To prepare watercress for raw consumption, it is essential to rinse the leaves and remove any dirt or debris thoroughly.

After rinsing the leaves, blanching them can be done by placing them in boiling water for no more than thirty seconds and then transferring them to an ice bath.

Blanching the watercress in hot water helps break down some of the cell walls and release some of the plant’s flavor and aroma.

After that, the watercress can be served raw or incorporated into various cooked dishes.

Benefits of Eating Watercress Raw

Eating watercress raw offers several benefits. Raw watercress contains significantly more antioxidants than cooked watercress, making it a healthier choice.

In addition, raw watercress is packed with essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamins K, A, C, folate, and calcium.

When you eat raw watercress, you also get a lot of healthy phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are plant-based nutrients that can protect cells from damage and reduce inflammation.

The following are some of the health benefits of eating watercress raw:

Antioxidant Profile

Watercress is an excellent source of antioxidants like lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene, which can protect cells from oxidative damage caused by free radicals.

Additionally, it is a good source of vitamins A and C, which help to neutralize cell-damaging free radicals.

Anti-inflammatory Properties

Watercress also possesses anti-inflammatory properties due to its high content of vitamins and minerals such as C, E, beta-carotene, manganese, and potassium.

These properties make watercress a beneficial food for inflammation-related conditions such as arthritis, asthma, and eczema.

Anticancer Properties

Watercress also contains glucosinolates and phenethyl isothiocyanate, which act as anticancer agents.

Research has indicated that regular consumption of watercress may reduce the risk of cancer, such as colorectal, lung, and prostate cancer.

Studies have demonstrated that glucosinolates and phenethyl isothiocyanate inhibit cancer cells’ growth by blocking their ability to multiply.

Bone Health

Watercress consumption may also promote bone health by increasing the amount of calcium and vitamin K in the body.

Vitamin K is essential for synthesizing osteocalcin, a protein that builds strong bones. Research has also shown that watercress is rich in minerals, including calcium and magnesium, which can help maintain bone health and density.

Eye Health

Watercress is also an excellent source of carotenoids, lutein, and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that protect the eyes from damage caused by free radicals.

Studies suggest that these compounds can help reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration, which affects central vision and can lead to blindness.

Side Effects of Eating Watercress Raw

Despite its health benefits, eating watercress raw may have some side effects.

Raw watercress may contain parasites, bacteria, and other harmful contaminants that can cause food poisoning.

Additionally, raw watercress contains high levels of oxalic acid, which can increase the risk of kidney stones and other kidney conditions.

High levels of oxalic acid can also interfere with the absorption of certain minerals, such as calcium and iron.

Watercress also has thyroid hormone-disrupting compounds.

Therefore, it is essential to consume raw watercress in moderation.


Watercress is a perennial herbaceous plant belonging to the mustard family with a rapid growth rate.

It thrives in aquatic environments and is recognized by its hollow stems, pinnately compound leaves, and small white blooms.

It is one of the oldest and most widely consumed green leafy vegetables today.

The antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients in raw watercress help protect cells from harm and decrease inflammation.

Watercress possesses anti-inflammatory, bone health, eye health, and antioxidant characteristics.

Overconsumption of watercress is not recommended as it may lead to certain health risks, such as thyroid problems and kidney stones.

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