THE first crop of the season of locally grown watercress has been made to Tesco in Winchester.

Due to the mild spring, UK watercress is available a week earlier than usual.

The Winchester Extra store at Winnall was selected because it is one of the retailer’s top selling stores for watercress where sales showed it outsold other stores by more than double.

The Watercress Company, with farms across Hampshire and Dorset, grows all of the peppery crop stocked by Tesco nationally and has been supplying the retailer for over 40 years.

To add theatre to the occasion, the watercress growers delivered their wares in Victorian costume and using the traditional wooden barrow that would have been a common sight in Hampshire as watercress was trundled around markets in this way, or up to the Watercress Line ready to be taken to London’s Covent Garden.

Watercress has been produced commercially in the beds of Hampshire since the 1890s. One hundred years ago around 1,000 acres of watercress beds existed and were located all over the country. Today only 150 acres remain, concentrated in Hampshire and Dorset due to the chalky downs through which rain water has filtered for thousands of years eventually flowing as natural springs into the beds where the watercress grows.

Jon Roberts, Manager for the Tesco Winchester Extra store, said: “Our customers clearly love that they can buy fresh, British watercress grown locally from our store. This is reflected by far higher sales of watercress from here than from most other Tesco stores nationwide. To have the season’s first crop delivered by the growers directly to this store was our way of thanking our customers for their loyalty and support.”

Tom Amery, MD of the Watercress Company agrees: “Watercress has been, and remains, an important produce for the area and locals obviously feel great loyalty towards it as well as appreciating its taste and health properties. We always look forward to the arrival of the UK season and wanted to share that excitement with the people of Winchester and the surrounding area who clearly value this peppery superfood too.”

Watercress packs a health-giving punch containing as it does more than 50 vital vitamins and minerals. Gram for gram watercress provides more calcium than milk, more folate than banana, more vitamin c than oranges and more vitamin e than broccoli. Recent research suggests that watercress can reverse the signs of ageing in skin and there is also a significant link between watercress and the prevention of cancer.