Originally of Peruvian descent, Nasturtiums were once prized by the Incas as both a vegetable and a medicine. Beautiful and nutritious, the brilliant flowers will gladly make themselves at home in any garden that offers them sufficient water, light, and drainage.
“Nose-twister” is the direct translation of the Latinate name Nasturtium, which refers to their sharp slightly horseradishy taste. The Swedish botanist Linnaeus dubbed them Tropaeolum Majus apparently because the shape of the floral buds reminded him of the trophy poles (or tropaeum) ancient Romans would drape with the armor of vanquished foes in the public square. The flower’s large round leaves also reminded him of shields, and their dappled petals of blood-stained helmets.
Nasturtiums contain both 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.
Garden writer Buckner Hollingsworth, ( whose own name sounds like it was invented by a botanist ) in her long out-of-print book entitled Flower Chronicles, once quoted Paxton’s Magazine of Botany wherein a certain “Mr. Trimmer” reported seeing “luminescent scintillations” shimmering above his Nasturtiums. To attempt to corroborate Trimmer’s strange conceit, Hollingsworth cites the notes of Erasmus Darwin, (grandfather of Charles), who once witnessed “an electric lustre” emanating from the crowns of his own Nasturtiums. Though the veracity of the luminosity in Nasturtiums remains a mystery, one might easily attribute these observations to the effects of other garden edibles.
When gathering Nasturtiums, if possible, do so in the early morning hours when the plants are full of vigor and try to pick only the younger leaves and tender buds as they will prove 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 apple-cider vinegar in order to create piquant “Nasturtium Capers”.