Nasturtiums are indigenous to Peru where they were highly prized by the Incas as both a vegetable and a medicine. Eager garden volunteers, Nasturtiums will gladly make their home in any garden that offers them sufficient water, sunlight, and good drainage.
“Nose-twister” is the translation of thier Latinate name, and refers to their delicately sharp and cress-like taste. The Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus dubbed them Tropaeolum Majus noting that the budding flowers were reminiscent of the trophy poles (or tropaeum) that ancient Romans would raise in the public square in order to flaunt the captured armor of their enemies. He claimed their large round leaves were reminiscent of shields and their dappled petals of blood-splashed helmets.
Nasturtiums offer significant amounts of both vitamins A and C, to your salad as well as their mustard oil which its abundant antibiotic, anti-fungal, and even anti-viral properties. The flowers also contain copious quantities of Lutein, the pigment also found in carrots that is known to improve eyesight.
Garden writer Buckner Hollingsworth, in her Flower Chronicles, refers to one “Mr.Trimmer” who reportedly spied “luminescent scintillations” shimmering above his Nasturtiums. In a a generous attempt to defend both Trimmer’s vision and sobriety, Hollingsworth then cites Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of the father of evolution, who also claims to have witnessed “an electric lustre” emanating from these exquisite flowers.
Try to gather your Nasturtiums early in the day when they are still teeming with vigor and sharpest in flavor. Seek out the nascent buds, young bright flowers, and tender leaves to dress up your salads.
You can ealso preserve the Nasturtium pods in a shallow dish submerged in apple cider vinegar and salt. After a night or two in the refrigerator they become piquant “Nasturtium Capers” to liven up your next potato salad.