Where Does Wild Watercress Grow?

Where does wild watercress grow?

Wild watercress can be found in most parts of the UK, although it is less common in the North.

It can be found in water courses such as shallow streams – as well as ditches.

It favours chalk streams, which in the UK, are predominantly found in Hampshire, Dorset, and Wiltshire.

Can you eat wild watercress in the UK?

Yes, you can eat wild watercress in the UK, but you need to be very careful.

Due to the risk of liver fluke, I would strongly advise you cook this, as (in my humble opinion) eating it raw is not worth the risk.

Can you get liver fluke/parasites from watercress?

Yes, you certainly can get liver fluke from eating wild watercress.

There is unfortunately a risk of ingesting fluke when collecting this plant which goes by the name of Fasciola hepatica.

These flukes are also known as Common Liver Fluke and Sheep Liver Fluke.

When eaten, Fasciola hepatica can cause a parasitic infection known as Fascioliasis.

The young worms move through the intestinal wall, into the liver, and then into the bile ducts where they mature into adults and go on to produce eggs.

This is all pretty nasty – but ultimately treatable.

Fasciola hepatica can be found on all continents, but excluding Antarctica.

You’re safe there 🙂

Given the above, I would recommend you steer clear of eating wild watercress raw, unless you are 100% sure there is no risk of these nasty flukes being present.

You can reduce the risk by sterilising the watercress in a chlorine-based solution, which somewhat defeats the object of picking wild foods in the first place.

As above, a surefire way of destroying any nasties is to cook the watercress.

This will render salads off the menu, but at least you have a healthy and safe way to eat this wild plant.

How do you identify wild watercress?

In order to identify wild watercress (Nasturtium officinale), focus on several key features, such as the colour and structure of the leaves, the appearance of the flowers, and the characteristics of the stems.

First, examine the leaves.

Wild watercress has dark green leaves, which typically have three to nine leaflets per leaf and arranged opposite each other.

The leaflets are oval or round in shape, slightly lobed, and measure about 3-5 centimetres in length.

Next, take note of the flowers.

Wild watercress blooms between April and October, bearing small clusters of white flowers.

Each flower has four petals arranged in a cross shape, with the petals measuring around 3-6 millimetres long.

These white flowers will often grow at the tips of the stems, providing further clues to the plant’s identity.

Lastly, inspect the stems.

Wild watercress has hollow, succulent stems, which are green or sometimes reddish.

The stems are thicker at the base and often become increasingly slender towards the top.

They are slightly ribbed and can grow either sprawling on the ground or partially upright.

Remember to use caution when harvesting wild watercress, as it can look similar to other toxic plants.

Always ensure you have correctly identified the plant to avoid any health risks.

By understanding the key characteristics of wild watercress, such as its leaves, flowers, and hollow stems, you can confidently forage for this plant.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does wild watercress taste like?

Watercress is a member of the mustard family and has a peppery, spicy taste to it.

Not everyone will like this taste (my children certainly don’t) but if it’s your thing, then it’s delicious.

I personally love it.

It tastes like it is really doing you some good.

Can you eat wild watercress in the UK?

Yes, you can eat wild watercress in the UK.

However, it is essential to carefully wash and prepare it before consuming, as it may contain contaminants or parasites.

What are the common habitats for wild watercress?

Wild watercress typically grows in slow-flowing, nutrient-rich freshwater streams and rivers.

It prefers semi-shaded areas with cool, clean water.

Are there any poisonous look-a-likes to be aware of?

Yes, it can be confused with fool’s watercress (Apium nodiflorum).

Fool’s watercress can be distinguished from wild watercress by its less aromatic scent and differently shaped leaves.

Where in the UK can wild watercress be found?

Wild watercress can be found throughout the UK, often growing in streams, rivers, and ditches in both rural and urban settings.

What does the wild watercress flower look like?

The wild watercress flower is small, white, and has four petals.

They grow in clusters at the ends of branching stems.

What are the hazards associated with consuming wild watercress?

Hazards associated with consuming wild watercress include contamination from pollutants such as fertilisers, pesticides, or animal waste, and the risk of liver fluke or other parasites if not properly washed/cooked.

What month is watercress in season?

Watercress is typically in season from April to October in the UK.

However, its availability may vary depending on local conditions and weather.

Watercress can be found in most parts of the UK. although it is less common in the North.

It can be found in water courses such as shallow streams (usually chalk streams) – as well as ditches.

It favours chalk streams, which in the UK, are predominantly found in Hampshire, Dorset, and Wiltshire.

Can you eat wild watercress in the UK?

Yes, you can eat wild watercress in the UK, but you need to be very careful.

I would strongly advise you cook this if you do decide to eat it.

Due to the risk of liver fluke, it (in my humble opinion) is not worth the risk.

Is it OK to eat watercress flowers?

Yes, watercress flowers can be eaten, just make sure they are cooked or you are sure of no fluke risks.

Looking for more foraging goodness? Take a look at my foraging articles here.