Nasturtiums are indigenous to Peru where they were prized by the Incas as both a vegetable and a medicine. Always eager garden volunteers, Nasturtiums will make their home in any garden that offers them sufficient water, sunlight, and drainage.
“Nose-twister“, is the direct translation of Nasturtium’s Latinate name. The classically-educated and surprisingly worldly Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus named the flower Tropaeolum Majus because the unopened buds reminded him of the trophy poles (tropaeum) ancient Romans used to drape with the captured armor of their enemies.
Nasturtiums contain both vitamin A and C as well as mustard oil with its antibiotic, anti-fungal, and anti-viral properties. The colorful flowers also offer more Lutein by weight than any other vegetable. Lutein is the pigment also found in carrots which is known to improve eyesight.
Erstwhile garden writer Buckner Hollingsworth, in her colorful Flower Chronicles, tells of a certain “Mr.Trimmer” who spied “luminescent scintillations” shimmering above his Nasturtiums. In her generous attempt to defend Trimmer’s credibilty, (and perhaps sobriety), Hollingsworth cites no less an authority than Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles, who once claimed to have witnessed “an electric lustre” emanating from his naturtiums.
Hollingsworth also exhorts us to gather our Nasturtiums at dawn when they are at the height of their vigor and sharpest in flavor. She also suggests we seek out only the nascent buds, young flowers, and tender pale green leaves as fodder for our salads.
The Nasturtium’s steampunk-style pods can also be submerged in a shallow dish of apple cider vinegar and salt and chilled overnight in order to make piquant “Nasturtium Capers”. They will add a radishy touch of Panache to your next potato salad.