Garden cress [commonly known as aliv in Marathi or halim in Hindi] is a green, cool-season perennial plant used as a leafy vegetable, typically used as a garnish. Undisturbed, the plant can grow to a height of two feet with minimal maintenance. When mature, garden cress produces white or light-pink flowers, and small seed pods. It has long leaves at the bottom of the stem and small, bright-green, feather-like leaves arranged on opposite sides of its stalks at the top.
Garden cress is an important source of iron, folic acid, calcium, vitamins C, E and A. The seed contains arachidic and linoleic fatty acids. The seeds are high in calories and protein, whereas the leaves are an excellent source of vitamin A, C and folate.
Values for 100g of garden cress leaves Energy 30 Kcal
Carbohydrates 5.5 g
Dietary fibre 1.1 g
Protein 2.6 g
Fat 0.7 g
Vitamin A 346 mcg
Folate 80 mcg
Vitamin C 69 mg
Calcium 81 mg
Iron 1.3 mg
Both the leaves and stems of cress can be eaten raw in salads or sandwiches, and are sometimes called cress sprouts. When buying cress, look for firm, evenly coloured, rich green leaves. Avoid cress with any signs of slime, wilting, or discoloration. If stored in plastic, it can last up to five days in a refrigerator. To prolong the life of cress, place the stems in a glass container with water and cover them, refrigerating the cress until it is needed.
For women’s health
Emenagogue: Garden cress has mild oestrogenic properties. It helps to regulate the menstrual cycle.
Galactogogue: Kheer made of garden cress seeds increases milk production and secretion in lactating mothers. Because of its high iron and protein content, it is often given post-partum to lactating mothers.
Aphrodisiac: Garden cress helps to improve libido.
For the gastro intestinal tract
Garden cress helps purify blood and stimulate appetite. It is used during constipation as a laxative and a purgative. Paste made of the seeds can be taken internally with honey to treat amoebic dysentery. The mucilage of the germinating seeds allays the irritation of the intestines in dysentery and diarrhoea. Garden cress crushed and drunk with hot water is beneficial to treat colic especially in infants.
For the respiratory tract
Garden cress seeds are good expectorants and when chewed they treat sore throat, cough, asthma and headache. The aerial parts are used in the treatment of asthma and cough.
Garden cress seeds being the richest source of non-haeme iron [iron found in haemoglobin which is an easily absorbed dietary iron.] help to increase the haemoglobin levels. When taken regularly, it helps to alleviate anaemia. It is advisable to have vitamin C half an hour after consumption of these seeds as it enhances iron absorption.
The seed coat of germinating seeds contains mucilage, which has a phytochemical called lepidimoide. Studies show that seeds of the plant lower the glycemic response to a test meal.
Garden cress seeds contain antioxidants like vitamin A and E which help protect cells from damage by free radicals. Hence, these seeds have a chemoprotective [drugs which protect healthy tissue from the toxic effects of anticancer drugs] nature.
For other things
Garden cress seeds are memory boosters because they contain arachidic and linoleic acids. They help gaining lean body mass because they are a good source of iron and protein. Research has proved that 60 per cent women have hair loss due to low iron levels and poor protein. A teaspoon of garden cress seeds soaked in lime water helps in iron absorption, which in turn strengthens hair. The plant is also used in treating bleeding piles. The leaves are mildly stimulant and diuretic, useful in scorbutic [related to or resembling scurvy] diseases and liver complaints. A paste of the seeds with water is applied to chapped lips, and against sunburn.
It is an abortifacient [substance that induces abortion], if had in excess. It contains goitrogens that prevent iodine absorption in thyroids and hence can lead to hypothyroidism. If large quantities of garden cress are consumed, the mustard oil it contains may cause digestive difficulties in some people who are sensitive to it. Therefore, garden cress should be eaten in moderation.