The name nasturtium comes from the Latin for “nose twist” (nas meaning “nose” and tortum meaning “twist”. This is because of the flower’s peppery taste and spicy scent and the way people twist their noses when they eat or smell it. Nasturtiums are popular with chefs and gardeners because the colorful flowers not only dress up a plate but they are high in vitamin A, C and D. The two most popular varieties are Tropaeolum majus, a trailing type and Tropaeolum minus, a bush type.
In the world of edible flowers, nasturtiums are one of the tastiest and easiest to grow. They grow quickly from seed. The seeds are large and easy to handle. Nicking the seeds prior to planting helps them to germinate faster. They can be planted directly into the garden about a week before the last frost. If started indoors, the seeds should be planted in peat pots so tap roots aren’t disturbed when transplanting. Nasturtiums thrive on neglect and don’t require rich soil. In fact, if soil is amended with nitrogen you will get all leaves and no flowers.
Nasturtiums do best in full sun, but still grow well in partly shaded locations. They love cool, damp, well-drained soil. If they slack off in the heat of summer, cut them back and they will re-grow and flower again in fall. Nasturtiums are relatively trouble-free. Nasturtium flowers range from pale yellow to vibrant red.
Harvest nasturtium buds, flowers and young leaves in the cool of the morning when the flowers have just opened. Gently wash and dry and use at once or store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Although you can eat the whole flower, if the flavor is too strong use only the milder tasting petals. Nasturtium leaves can be used in many ways – as a spicy addition to salads, as a base for pesto or chopped and put in spreads with softened cheeses. They can be used as beds for chicken salad or fish and as a garnish on potato salad or savory muffins. Add fresh leaves and blossoms to vinegars. You can also use nasturtium blossoms in salads, stir-fries, stuff them with cream cheese or a fine chicken salad or cook them with pasta. The flower buds can be pickled as a substitute for capers.
Nasturtium Blossom Salad
3 cups ruby lettuce
1 cup arugula
8 nasturtium blossoms
1 garlic clove, pressed
½ tsp Dijon mustard
¾ tsp. salt
2 grindings black pepper
¼ tsp. sugar
4 Tbsp. white wine vinegar or fruit vinegar
1 Tbsp. fresh dill, minced
1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
1 Tbsp. fresh basil, minced
10 Tbsp. olive oil
Put ruby lettuce on bottom of salad bowl, then arugula and finally nasturtium blossoms carefully arranged to show off their colors. Whisk together
all ingredients for vinaigrette and dress salad with ½ the vinaigrette.
(Submitted by Anne Vidaver)