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.
Though “Nose-twister“, is the direct translation of Nasturtium its Latinate name, the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, perhaps the most dashing figure in all of Taxonomy, dubbed the flower Tropaeolum Majus apparently because the unopened buds reminded him of the trophy poles (tropaeum) ancient Romans used to set up in public squares and then drape with the captured armor of their enemies in order to celebrate a victory in battle.
Nasturtiums contain ample 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 found in carrots that is known to improve eyesight.
The erstwhile garden writer Buckner Hollingsworth, in her Flower Chronicles, relates that a “Mr.Trimmer” once spied “luminescent scintillations” shimmering above his Nasturtiums. In a rather magnanimous attempt to defend Trimmer’s vision, (and perhaps sobriety), Hollingsworth cites Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles, who also claimed to have witnessed “an electric lustre” emanating from the flowers.
Remember to gather your Nasturtiums early in the day when they are in full vigor and sharpest in flavor. Your goal should be to seek out only the nascent buds, young flowers, and tender leaves for your salad.
The Nasturtium’s deco-style pods can also be submerged in a shallow dish of apple cider vinegar and salt and placed in your refrigerator. After just a night or two, they will become “Nasturtium Capers”, the perfect ingredient to add piquancy to a Potato salad.