Nasturtiums are indigenous to Peru and were once prized by the Incas as both a vegetable and a medicine. These brilliant flowers are eager volunteers and will make themselves at home in any garden offering sufficient water, light, and drainage.
“Nose-twister” is the direct translation of their 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 floral buds reminded him of the trophy poles (or tropaeum) ancient Romans used to drape the armor of vanquished foes they paraded in the public square. The flower’s large round leaves also reminded the militant 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 ) in a long out-of-print book entitled Flower Chronicles, has quoted Paxton’s Magazine of Botany wherein a certain Mr. Trimmer reported seeing “luminescent scintillations” shimmering above his Nasturtiums. In an attempt to corroborate this strange conceit, Hollingsworth then cites the notes of Erasmus Darwin, (grandfather of Charles), who claims to ave witnessed “an electric lustre” emanating from the petals of his own Nasturtiums. Though the veracity these claims remains a mystery, one might safely attribute them to the effects of other garden edibles.
When gathering Nasturtiums try to do so in the early morning hours when the plants are still full of vigor . Remember to pick only the younger leaves and tender flower buds as they will prove to be the most flavorful and delicate.
Nasturtiums can transform even a modest potato or rice salad into something both beautiful and delicious and you can also salt the little Nasturtium pods and pickle them in some apple-cider vinegar in order to create piquant “Nasturtium Capers”.