THE Watercress Company has made free bags of watercress available to staff and patients at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital (RHCH) in Winchester for an indefinite period.

The move follows the success of a similar scheme at Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester where the watercress grower installed a ‘Grab-a-Bag Fridge’ back in January. So far over 23,000 free bags have been distributed.

Tom Amery, managing director of The Watercress Company, said: “When we began the ‘Grab-a-Bag scheme’ we were keen to simply encourage trial by people who might not traditionally buy watercress because once tried, most consumers become hooked and include watercress in their regular shop.

“However, with the onset of Lockdown 1.0 and now Lockdown 2.0 we recognised the part we could play in trying to keep key workers at our local hospitals fit and healthy. They can add watercress to their sandwiches, make a salad or simply eat it fresh from the bag to reap the many health benefits.

“We’re delighted to now be working with the staff and patients of Royal Hampshire County Hospital and hope to extend the scheme more widely across the trust. Ultimately we have ambitions to find ways to ensure every hospital in the UK can be supplied so staff and patients can enjoy the benefits of this nutrient rich salad-vegetable."

The fridge is located in the restaurant at RHCH and is available to all staff and all patients too. Anyone taking a bag receives a leaflet detailing some health facts and simple serving suggestions. In the first week, the fridge has been refilled three times already – that’s roughly 450 bags.

Lynn Eathorne-Long, executive assistant to the chairman at the RHCH and Andrew Bennett, kitchen manager took delivery of the Grab-a-Bag Station.

Lynn said: “I think it’s a great idea! It’s a small thank you to the staff throughout the hospital who are working so hard to care for us and keep us safe, but best of all it’s helping to keep them fit and healthy too.”

Watercress boasts a phenomenal list of health benefits, hard to be beaten by any other vegetable. It contains over 50 vital vitamins and minerals; gram for gram watercress contains more calcium than milk, more Vitamin C than an orange, more folate than a banana and more Vitamin E than broccoli.