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Into the Fast Flowing Stream in Search of Watercress

My daughter, Lili has medical finals looming but she was easily distracted from her books to jaunt in the warm Easter sunshine. We foraged ramsons in the wood behind the house, sweet cicely by a river and sorrel in abundance. A.A. Milne was quite right right: Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them (Eeyore). On one walk we donned wellington boots and headed into the local burn to pick watercress. Once widely used as a potherb, watercress was a stalwart ingredient in a multitude of medicinal herbal remedies. Some ate it to prevent baldness, others to increase their fertility and those who had over indulged hoped that watercress might cure their hang-over.

Foraging watercress well away from cattle and sheep

Watercress is nutrient-packed and has been strongly linked with maintaining good health - one of the so called new super foods. This maybe, but the peppery flavour of watercress will often find its way onto my plate in a sandwich, soup bowl or at supper time. I add a handful of freshly chopped watercress to mashed potatoes instead of grinding a pepper mill. One of its colloquial names is poor man's pepper, which is pertinent because in days of yore, its pungent taste avoided the use of cooking with costly spices.

Watercress is found in streams and ditches. Its delicate white, four petalled flowers appear in late spring. The heart shaped leaves can vary in colour from vivid green to almost black. Do not pick it from stagnant water or where sewage drains. There is much fear of Liver Fluke( from eating watercress found on pasture land) but this is killed when watercress is cooked. It would not however be advisable to eat 'raw' watercress, which has been picked where cattle and sheep graze. Watercress becomes leggy after flowering but with luck there is another, autumn picking. Wear wellington boots or if it's warm and you can tolerate muddy feet - forage barefoot. Take scissors and a plastic or waterproof bag, don't be greedy and try not to disturb the watercress roots. Sorrel is also in season and its sour lemon flavour works well with watercress.

Wild Watercress Sauce taken from The Forager's Kitchen

Serves 4

50g wild watercress ( stalks and stray roots removed)

50g blanched almonds

3 tbsps. olive oil

4 tbsps. Greek yoghurt

Tbsp. chopped sorrel

Freshly ground black pepper

Wash and dry the watercress and put it with the almonds in a food processor. Blend briefly.

Add the olive oil and yoghurt and blend to mix.

Pour the watercress sauce into a saucepan. Add the finely shredded sorrel and heat over a low heat to warm through.

Serve with pasta, or as a sauce for salmon or poached chicken.