Ancient civilizations believed watercress, the oldest known green vegetable, to have numerous health benefits — some real medicine, some lore.

Greek mythology says the god Zeus ate watercress to protect himself from his father, Cronos. A Persian king ordered soldiers to eat the plant to keep them well and to prevent and cure scurvy. Hippocrates prescribed it to treat blood disorders, while Victorians thought it cured toothaches, hiccups and freckles.

Today we know the leafy green as a good source of potassium, calcium and vitamins A and C.

MERCHANDISING

Now is a great time to promote watercress in conjunction with Chinese New Year. Those of Chinese descent eat 60 percent of the green consumed in the United States, says Andy Brown, vice president of marketing at B&W Quality Growers Inc., Fellsmere, Fla. As the Chinese generally don’t have a beverage with their meals, one of the first courses will be watercress soup to help with digestion.

At other times of the year, cross-merchandise it with soup broths, sesame oil, miso, rice vinegar and soy sauce.

SAMPLING

Watercress can be a bit tricky to work with, Brown says. Serve it in a clear broth or a European-style cream-based soup. You also can sauté it for one minute in a wok.

HANDLING

Store watercress at 35-38 F (1.7-3.3 C) at 80 percent to 100 percent humidity to meet its two-week shelf life. Watercress is ethylene sensitive. Display bagged product in the refrigerated salad section and bunched product in a chilled specialty section, Brown recommends.

AVAILABILITY

Watercress is available year-round from California, Florida, Tennessee and West Virginia.