05/19/2011 10:10 am ET Updated Jul 19, 2011

May's Salad: Watercress and Walnuts With a Citrus Vinaigrette

When I was a kid, watercress was a garnish. It came on the side of plates of food at local restaurants, and sometimes I would eat it just to taste its tangy dark greenness.

My mother was obsessed with garnishes. She had a hard time eating anything that wasn't "garnished." But she didn't use watercress. I, personally, am fairly anti-garnish in general. I think food should look good just by itself, and doesn't need decoration. But I digress...

Somewhere along the way I developed a taste for watercress. And come spring, there is no better way to get it than in a salad. But first, here's what you need to know about our friend watercress:


NUTRITION: Watercress gives you a nice dose of vitamins A, C and K, and contains the mineral calcium. And it contains some phytochemcials that are good for eye health, plus a particularly potent cancer-fighting antioxidant known as PEITC.

HEALING PROPERTIES: Good for cleansing kidneys and livers--even for dissolving kidney stones.

STORIES AND SPIRIT:  According to Alma Hutchens, in her book A Handbook of Native American Herbs, the Romans thought watercress was good for people with deranged minds.

FORAGING AND FINDING: You have to be careful with wild watercress. Since it grows at the edges of streams, if the stream is polluted, so is your watercress. So either grow your own near a water source you trust, or buy it at your local farmer's market and hope they grew it cleanly.

Watercress and Walnuts with a Citrus Vinaigrette

For the recipe and more from Maria Rodale, go to

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