Nasturtiums are indigenous to Peru where they were once prized by the Incas as both a vegetable and a medicine. These eager volunteers will make themselves at home in any garden that offers them sufficient water, sunlight, and prpr drainage.
“Nose-twister” is the direct translation of the Latinate name Nasturtium. The name refers to their slightly sharp cress-like taste. The Swedish botanist Linnaeus dubbed them Tropaeolum Majus because the shape of the stalks and buds reminded him of the trophy poles (or tropaeum) that ancient Romans used to drape with the armor of their vanquished foes in the public square. The flower’s large round leaves also reminded the martial-minded taxonomist of shields, and their dappled petals of blood-stained helmets.
Nasturtiums contain ample quantities of vitamins A and C as well as mustard oil with its well-known antibiotic, anti-fungal, and anti-viral properties. They also boast copious amounts of Lutein, a pigment also found in carrots, that improves eyesight.
The garden writer Buckner Hollingsworth, ( a name that sounds like it was invented by a botanist for a flower) in a long out-of-print book entitled Flower Chronicles, quotes one Paxton’s Magazine of Botany wherein a certain Mr. Trimmer reports seeing “luminescent scintillations” shimmering above his Nasturtiums. In a bold attempt to corroborate Trimmer’s conceit, Hollingsworth cites Erasmus Darwin, (grandfather of Charles), who claims to have witnessed “an electric lustre” emanating from the petals of his own Nasturtiums. These assertions, however marvelous, remain unconfirmed, and are more likely the result of the effects of other garden edibles.
It is best to gather one’s Nasturtiums in the early morning hours when the plants are in full vigor. Try to pick out the nascent buds, flowers and leaves, as they will prove the most delicate and flavorful, especially when gently torn into a salad of tender young lettuces, fresh mint, cress, arugala, etc.
Not only will Nasturtium flowers transform your next potato or rice salad into something beautiful and delicious, you can also salt the extra-terrestrial looking pods and then pickle them in apple cider vinegar in order to create piquant “Nasturtium Capers”.