There are references to watercress in many early Irish manuscripts.  It formed part of the diet of hermits and holy men who valued its special properties.  Legend has it that it was watercress that enabled St. Brendan to live to the ripe old age of 180! This dark green, peppery, wild, nutritious salad green can be found growing along moving water, usually beside rural shallow streams or ditches in the countryside.  To distinguish it from a (safe) wild celery that grows in similar places, the watercress’s top leaf is rounder and larger that its side leaves.  Watercress can be found all year round, but is especially prolific in spring and summer.  A frost will temporarily damage growth. Traditionally it has been used to treat kidney disorders and liver malfunctions.  It is a member of the cancer fighting cruciferous vegetable family (which includes broccoli, cabbage and kale).  Studies have shown that people who eat cruciferous vegetables regularly have a reduced risk of colon, rectum and bladder cancer.  Some suggest applying watercress juice to the skin to clear up spots.  It is a natural antibiotic and is also great to speed up the detoxification process in the body.  It has even been claimed to relieve stomach upsets, respiratory problems and urinary tract infections.  To add to the bargain it is full of nutrients especially vitamin C, E and A. Unfortunately, there is one draw back to watercress.  It grows in streams often inhabited by water snails.  These snails regularly carry liver fluke, a nasty parasite spread by cattle and sheep.  Droplets of water or tiny snails adhering to the leaves can pass-on the parasite, which affects the liver.  If there is any grazing upstream of where you are picking, the watercress is certainly not safe to eat raw.  Your best bet is to enquire locally for safe places to collect it.  The best way to make sure you don’t contract liver fluke is to cook the watercress, as this will kill the parasite. Watercress makes delicious soup.  All you need to do is sweat some potato and onion for 10 minutes, add some stock and simmer until the potato is cooked.  Then, during the last few minutes of cooking, add the chopped watercress.  Let it simmer for just a minute longer, then liquidise and season.  I have also recently discovered how fantastic it is when chopped and added to the final stages of a simple risotto.  Don’t forget though, if you want to eat it raw in a salad make sure you wash it thoroughly beforehand.