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Water Dropwort is a long-stemmed green vegetable that is considered to be an aquatic plant. It has thin, hollow stems that grow up to 100 centimeters long, and green leaves that are oblong to ovate in shape with serrated edges. The plant’s delicate, fragrant white flowers grow in flat-topped clusters rising from the stalks. Water Dropwort leaves taste of carrot tops and celery.
Water Dropwort is available in the fall and winter months.
Botanically classified as Oenanthe javanica, the Water Dropwort is the only plant in the Oenanthe genus that is not toxic. It is often mistaken for some of its poisonous relatives, such as the deadly hemlock water dropwort, a common plant in Britain that has caused many accidental deaths. All parts of the Water Dropwort, from its young shoots to its roots, are edible, and it is highly prized as a vegetable and flavoring agent. Although Water Dropwort is a warm-weather plant of the wetland areas, it is considered a cool-weather vegetable, and is most commonly eaten in the fall and winter when its young shoots and leaves appear. Water Dropwort is also known by other names such as Seri in Japan, and Minari in Korea. It may be referred to as Korean watercress, Japanese parsley, and even Chinese celery, although those names belong to completely different plants. In addition to its culinary applications, Water Dropwort can be used as a feed for fish (koi fish in particular are said to be fond of eating the plant) and as an ornamental water filtration plant in ponds.
Water Dropwort is rich in vitamins and minerals. It contains high amounts of beta-carotene, iron and vitamin E. It also contains riboflavin, calcium, and protein. Its chlorophyll-rich leaves have antigenotoxic and antioxidative properties, and thus can be highly beneficial for overall health.
Water Dropwort is used as a flavoring herb in soups and stews. Both the leaves and stems can be finely chopped and used as a topping on any savory dish. In Korea, it is commonly used as a flavoring for kimchi, and as a vegetable in the hot-stone dish bibimbap and in the fish soup, Maeuntang. Water Dropwort may be sautéed on its own, or used in pasta or noodle dishes. It adds excellent flavor to quiches, sandwiches, and casseroles. Water Dropwort can be used as a substitute for watercress in recipes, as it delivers a similar crunch. Once harvested, Water Dropwort is prone to wilting. Store Water Dropwort loosely in a bag, in the refrigerator, where they will be good for a couple of days. If the plant is available with the roots intact, place them in a jar filled with water and store in the refrigerator where they may last longer.
Water Dropwort is considered an important vegetable throughout Asia. In Japan, it is so highly regarded as a food that it is mentioned in poems from the 7th to 8th Century. Water Dropwort was cultivated in Japan as early as 750 AD, and today is still a favoured ingredient for sukiyaki. It is also used in nana-kusa-gayu, or seven herbs rice gruel, a warm rice porridge dish topped with Water Dropwort and other herbs such as henbit. This simple Japanese New Year's dish is customarily eaten on January 7th in Japan, and supposedly promotes longevity and health when eaten on this particular date. This practice is said to have started in the early 10th century. Water Dropwort also shows up in traditional folk medicine cures around the world. In a 17th century Japanese text, Water Dropwort is listed as an herb that helps with reducing body heat. In Korea, it is considered to be good for the liver. In Papua New Guinea, Water Dropwort is chewed with wild ginger and ash salt as an antidote to poison; rubbing the leaves onto one’s forehead is also said to ease headaches. Lastly, Native Americans are said to have used Water Dropwort to help dissolve kidney stones.
Water Dropwort has its origins in Asia, and its use in China as an herb dates back to 700 BCE. Today, it is found in South, Southeast and East Asia, from Pakistan to the Philippines, Taiwan and Japan. It also grows in parts of Europe such as Italy, in the tropical regions of Australia, as well as in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, where it is a common green. Asian immigrants likely brought the plant to North America, and it has been found naturalized as far north as British Columbia. The perennial aquatic herb grows well in wet, swampy areas in canals, marshes, wet grasslands, and along streams. The fast-growing plant prefers semi-shade.