Nasturtiums are native to Peru and, according to Jesuit missionaries, were highly prized by the Incas both as a salad vegetable and a medicinal herb. Its Latinate name translates as “nose-twister” in reference to the mildly sharp, slightly horseradishy taste. Also known as Indian Cress and Lark’s heel, garden artists everywhere consider nasturtiums (Tropaeolum magus) a flower of both rare beauty and culinary delight.
It is also a mysterious flower. Buckner Hollingsworth in her book Flower Chronicles writes of an erstwhile Paxton’s Magazine of Botany wherein a Mr Trimmer reports seeing luminescent “scintillations” appearing above nasturtiums. No less an authority than Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles, also writes of witnessing an “electric lustre” emanateing from the flowers, though Foodism editors cannot attest to have witnessed the phenomenon.
Especially when one gathers only the young and tender leaves and colorful flowers nasturtiums can be mixed with other salad greens or used with great effect in a potato or rice salad to add a delicate mustardy sharpness to the dish.
You can also pickle the Nasturtium pods in vinegar and salt in order to prepare piquant “Nasturtium Capers” .-Ed.