Village farmer only one still growing the salad leaf with health benefits

Salad-lovers across the country celebrate National Watercress Week this week and some of the freshest of the peppery leaves can be found in Sarratt.

Farmer Terry Tyler, who was at a festival held in Hampshire to mark the start of Watercress Week on Sunday, May 13 grows the 'superfood' salad in Sarratt Bottom.

And as food fans across the country look up watercress recipes this week, Terry, 68, said he is happy to provide people with watercress fresh from the farm.

"You won't get it any fresher," he promised.

"If you get it from the supermarket, it's from America or Portugal.

"A lot of people come down to the farm and get a bag at a time."

Terry, whose family have been farming watercress in beds off Moore Lane since 1886, added that his watercress was grown completely chemical-free.

Terry started to sell directly to people at the farm three to four years ago, as well as providing large amounts of watercress for wholesalers, when ramblers walking in the area stopped to try his salad.

The farmer said many of the ramblers now returned regularly to the farm by car to pick up some more bunches of the fresh peppery leaves – priced at around 1 for lb.

"They say it's the taste of it – which they don't get from the supermarket," he said.

Terry runs his farm with help from his son Jonathan Tyler, daughter Suzanne Burr, and from time-to-time, his nine-year-old grandson, Henry Cooper.

The family business, E Tyler & Sons is the last known commercial watercress farm in Hertfordshire.

Terry's family ran a watercress stall at Covent Garden in London for over 100 years, but he was forced to pull out four years ago because of rising costs.

The salad farmer was given a boost in February this year when scientists declared the salad a cancer-busting superfood.

According to scientists at the University of Ulster, eating watercress – a salad with larger leaves than normal cress – released compounds that reduce DNA damage in blood cells that can trigger cancer.

From early Victorian times until the 1960s, parts of Hemel Hempstead and Berkhamsted were well known for producing large amounts of watercress.

The industry, running alongside the River Bulbourne, declined because of changes to the rail network that it depended on to ship salad to buyers across the country.

More recently, small, independent watercress farmers have been hit by the rising popularity of supermarkets and an increase in EU regulations.

Watercress was still being farmed until recently near Hemel Hempstead at Gadespring Watercress Farm in Old Fishery Lane, but the business was forced to close because it could not afford to keep going.

The salad is still said to grow in the wild alongside the River Bulbourne in Hemel Hempstead and Berkhamsted – some of which is monitored by the Box Moor Trust.

Fancy cress!

Give your body a treat during National Watercress Week by adding watercress to your diet.

Just taking a few extra minutes to plan and prepare nutritious meals and snacks, incorporating superfoods like watercress, can do your health, waistline and wallet a favour.

Containing more vitamin C than oranges, more calcium than milk and more iron than spinach, watercress is low in fat, tastes great and is

incredibly versatile.

It's packed with beta-carotene and Vitamin A equivalents, which are great for healthy skin and eyes, and antioxidants that can help mop up potentially harmful free radicals.

New research also shows it is emerging as an important player in the field of cancer prevention.