Watercress Factsheet

Alresford Watercress Festival

  • Every year, Alresford holds a festival when the entire town pays homage to the plant, with stalls, processions, award-winning watercress-passionate chefs, cookery demonstrations and a world watercress-eating championship. Takes place on Sunday 15 May 2011, 11am – 4pm. www.watercressfestival.org

Watercress railway

  • With the birth of railways in 1865, trade in the plant grew so much that the line between Alresford and London became affectionately known as the Watercress Line. Today, it is a beautifully restored steam railway, running through the heart of Hampshire and is open to the public between May and September. www.watercressline.co.uk | +44 (0) 1962 733810

Watercress beer

  • Itchen Valley Brewery in Hampshire produces a seasonal bitter called the Itchen Valley Watercress Line, in which locally-produced watercress provides its unique flavour. www.itchenvalley.com | +44 (0) 1962 735111

Commercial production

  • Watercress is grown in a number of UK counties, most notably Hertfordshire, Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorset, although the first commercial cultivation was by horticulturist William Bradbery in 1808 along the River Ebbsfleet in Kent.
  • The Georgian market town of Alresford is surrounded by a network of crystal clear chalk streams, rivulets and channels, which have provided ideal growing conditions for the country’s watercress since Victorian times. Consequently, Alresford is referred to as the watercress capital of Britain.
  • The vital ingredient for growing watercress is mineral rich flowing water from which the leaf absorbs its many nutrients. So important is this traditional growing method that British watercress farmers have asked the EU to give them protected food status to ensure that land-grown cress cannot be sold as the real thing’.
  • Watercress flourishes in areas that are environmentally sensitive and this is taken very seriously by its farmers. All UK watercress farms are LEAF accredited, meaning they are run to the highest environmental standards, and Conservation Grade accredited ñ a mark that requires farmers to use 10% of their land for the creation of specific nature-friendly habitats.
  • John Hurd has been cultivating watercress for over 40 years and was the first UK grower to gain NFU approved organic status in 1994. He has since received accolades from Rick Stein and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. For his free recipe book contact: www.organicwatercress.co.uk | +44 (0) 1985 840260

Health benefits

  • According to nutritionists, watercress can be used for the treatment of respiratory congestion, coughs, bronchitis and flu. Due to its high iodine content, it has a strengthening effect on the thyroid gland, so it is also beneficial for sufferers of hypothyroidism.