Nasturtiums are loved for their rich, saturated – toned colors such as pale yellow, to vibrant oranges and reds. They’re one of the tastiest and easiest to grow. Hummingbirds like the bright flowers, but alas so also do black aphids. There is a belief that to grow nasturtiums outside the garden attracts all the aphids away from the main flowers.
Tropaeolum majus (Garden Nasturtium, Indian Cress or Monks Cress) is a flowering plant in the family Tropaeolaceae, originating in South America in the Andes from Bolivia north to Colombia. It was brought by Spanish conquistadors to Spain early in the sixteenth century and then to Paris where they became very popular. The English soon discovered nasturtiums, calling the plants “Indian cress” for the hot-flavored leaves. By the 17th Century the nasturtium had become so popular as a garden and cut flower and as a food plant that few European gardens were without it.
This plant should not be confused with the Watercresses of the genus Nasturtium, of the Mustard family. The flower gets its name from the Latin nasusm (nose) and tortus (twisted) because their smell makes the nose wrinkle or twist. The botanical name Tropaelum is from the Green tropiaon (a trophy). In ancient Greece, shields and helmets of defeated enemy were fixed onto tree trunks. It was thought that the nasturtium leaves resembled shields, with the flowers resembling helmets.
Nasturtiums have rounded shaped leaves with wavy-margins. The leaves are pale green, about 2-5 in (5.1-12.7 cm) across, and are borne on long petioles like an umbrella. The flowers typically have five petals, although there are double and semi-double varieties. The flowers are about 1-2 in (2.5-5.1 cm) in diameter and come in a kaleidoscope of colors including russet, pink, yellow, orange, scarlet and crimson. A white flowered cultivar was bred in the 19th century but apparently has been lost.
The most common use of the nasturtium plant in cultivation is as an ornamental flower. It grows easily and prolifically, and is a self-seeding annual. All parts of the plant are edible. The flower has most often been consumed, making for an especially ornamental salad ingredient; it has a slightly peppery taste reminiscent of watercress, and is also used in stir fry. The unripe seed pods can be harvested and pickled with hot vinegar, to produce a condiment and garnish, sometimes used in place of capers, although the taste is strongly peppery. Use the blossoms either whole or chopped to decorate creamy soups, salads, butters, cakes and platters. The chopped leaves also have vitamin C and make a zesty addition to mayonnaise or vinaigrettes. As the summer sun gets hotter, so does the “pepper” in the nasturtiums.
6 cups baby greens washed and dried
1 cup nasturtiums washed and gently patted dried
1 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil
pinch celtic sea salt
Combine lemon juice, olive oil and salt wisking well. Place greens on four individual plates and then add nasturtiums taking care with the blooms. Serve a drizzle of dressing to be added right at meal time.
– Nasturtiums usually don’t start forming seedpods until late in the summer and you have to search for them. You’ll find them attached to the stems underneath the foliage, where they develop in clusters of three. –
2 tablespoons salt
1 cup water
1/2 cup green nasturtium seedpods
3/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
2 fresh bay laurel leaves, or 1 dried
2 3-inch sprigs fresh thyme
Brining: Bring the salt and water to a boil in a small saucepan. Put the nasturtium seedpods in a half-pint glass jar and pour the boiling brine over them. Cover and let them soak at room temperature for 3 days.
Pickling: Drain the nasturtium seedpods in a fine sieve and return them to the jar. Bring the vinegar, sugar, bay leaves, and thyme to a boil in a small (1-quart) saucepan. Pour the boiling vinegar mixture over the seedpods and let cool. Cover the jar and refrigerate for 3 days before using. They’ll keep for 6 months in the refrigerator if covered in the vinegar.