Brunnenkresse aus der Erfurter Klinge
Watercress is a wild green plant that grows along clear streams in most countries of the northern hemisphere. It belongs to the cruciferous vegetables and is therefore related to turnips and radishes. The usual botanical name is Nasturtium officinale.
Watercress is a perennial aquatic plant with smooth, dark green, pinnately compound leaves. It has an intense, spicy flavor. It can be eaten fresh as a salad green or incorporated in various dishes such as soups and omelets, or in herb butter. Watercress is a healthy source of vitamins in winter when very few other fresh regional vegetables are available.
In Erfurt, Germany, the cultivation of watercress began around 1630. From 1740 onwards, the original collection of watercress from natural streams developed into an orderly cultivation system with artificial watercourses called Klingen (blades), interspersed with dams. This system was the first of its kind in Europe and the world. Since then, similar systems have been set up in numerous countries such as France, the UK, Switzerland and the US.
Cultivation takes place in an annual cycle: Following the harvest, the watercourse is cleaned in early summer. Nursery plants or cuttings are planted at low water levels. Once the plants are established, the water level is dammed to a constant depth of 8-10 cm. The healthy green vegetable is harvested during months with an “r”, using bare hands in the cool spring water while kneeling on narrow wooden boards.
In 1960, the watercress growers in Erfurt were collectivized by the East German government, and the historical cultivation system was gradually abandoned between 1975 and 1990. Most of the watercourses were filled in and used for other horticultural purposes. It was not until 1994, following reprivatization, that a watercourse of the Fischer family could be restored. The renovated Erfurt watercourse is the only one of its kind today. The operation is currently run by Ralf Fischer and his wife as a side business. It is open to the public, and visitor groups can familiarize themselves with its history and the cultivation area. Interested potential growers are welcome to benefit from the experience gained during its long production period.