THE biggest event in the watercress calendar will take place in Alresford on Sunday – and The Watercress Company is all set for the occasion.

Managing director Tom Amery gave the Herald a tour of its Manor Farm in Old Alresford on the eve of the Alresford Watercress Festival.

And the crop that will be handed out in exchange for donations to local children’s cancer charity Abby’s Heroes was in perfect shape.

Interest in watercress is so great that television chef Phil Vickery was at Manor Farm on Tuesday to cook with the peppery leaves on This Morning, and Mr Amery was interviewed by Jay Rayner, host of Radio 4 show The Kitchen Cabinet, on the merits of the plant.

Speaking last Friday (May 6), Mr Amery said: “This farm will crop next week and the week after. We will produce about 100 tons – or 1.2 million bags – from this farm.

“Sales are booming. Watercress is a little more expensive than iceberg but offers more nutrition and far better health qualities.”

Watercress is grown in shallow concrete beds, lined with gravel to give the roots something to grab hold of. Water flows through the beds and sunlight does the rest. The first crop is planted in February and is ready in May for the festival – the first of five crops to be harvested over the summer.

The Watercress Company also owns the Drayton, Maxwells and Bishop’s Sutton farms in the Alresford area, plus others in Winchester, Dorchester, Spain and Florida.

Mr Amery said: “Watercress is regarded as the British salad and is probably the longest living salad in the world. It is native to many countries in South America, Asia and Europe and was probably spread around the world by the early shippers. It most likely originated in Asia.

“The Romans and Greeks loved it and adopted it for its health benefits.

“It is called nasturtium, which means twisted nose in Latin, and it is most likely the Romans brought it to the UK.

“The hot peppery flavour protects our DNA, and it also contains iron, calcium and vitamin C – everything is in there. It’s a real boombox of nutrition.”