Nasturtiums are a gardener’s dream – they grow easily from seed, quickly cover an area, are great companion plants which act like traps for aphids, produce ornamental foliage, have an abundance of brightly-colored flowers and are tasty too! They were discovered in the jungles of Peru and Mexico in the 16th century where the Indians used the leaves as a tea to treat colds and flu since they are high in vitamin C. The conquistadors brought them back to Spain and once introduced to European gardens, nasturtium’s popularity caught on. Both Louis XIV of France and Monet were fond of them and planted nasturtiums in their gardens
Nasturtiums basically come in two forms: compact and trailing eight to twelve inches tall. The leaves are rounded and reminiscent of water lily pads and most varieties have deep green leaves, but some are also speckled with cream. Nasturtium flowers which are funnel shaped with spurs range in color from cream to yellow, orange and even crimson. Although the vibrant flowers appear delicate, they are actually very durable and will bloom until the first frost. Nasturtiums are tender perennials that are treated as annuals and will tolerate very poor soil if it is loose and well-watered but not too soggy. They love full sun and make a great informal display as a ground cover, in container herb gardens or even hanging baskets and window boxes. They are also a wonderful choice for a child’s first garden since the seeds are large enough for small hands to handle. Plant seeds 8-12 inches apart after the last frost and they will germinate in 7-10 days and bloom in 10-12 weeks. The plants don’t require fertilizers and too much will result in leaf growth at the expense of flowers. Pick the flowers and leaves in the early morning when the water content is highest and they will stay fresh for a day or two if place in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
The entire nasturtium plant is edible with a slightly peppery honey-lemon taste, however the more sun and heat, the spicier the taste! Its common name comes from the Latin “Nostus Tortus” meaning nose twister, referring to the faces people make when tasting the spicy plant. Both sweet and spicy, the peppery plant is perfect for salads, herb vinegars, stuffed as appetizers, on open-faced tea sandwiches and as garnishes plus the seeds can even be ground and used as a replacement for pepper. In fact, they were used this way during World War II when black pepper was unattainable. The seeds can also be pickled and used in place of capers. Nasturtiums are also nutritious – they’re packed with vitamins A and C, 10 times the amount in lettuce, so add a generous portion of leaves and flowers to your salad mixes.
To get Nasturtiums to sprout faster,
soak the seeds in warm water overnight
and then place them directly where you want them to grow
since they don't transplant well
Mix 8oz softened cream cheese with 3Tbs chopped chives and add 3-5Tbs milk until smooth. Spread the cream cheese not quite to the edges of squares of crustless bread. Pick your nasturtium blooms and gently rinse. Place one bloom on each piece of bread, or careful separate the petals and arrange in a design on top of the cream cheese. These are great for summer tea parties!
NASTURTIUM SPRING ROLLS
Arrange 12 red lettuce leaves, 1 pkg rehydrated ramen noodles, 1 julienne sliced cucumber, 1 peeled and sliced mango, 12 nasturtium leaves, 12 nasturtium blossoms and 24 spearmint leaves on a large platter. Have guests assemble spring rolls by placing a rice paper wrapper in a bowl of warm water, then lay flat on damp towel. Cover half the wrapper with a red lettuce leaf. Top with noodles, several cucumber strips, a mango slice, a nasturtium leaf, a flower and two mint leaves. Fold the wrapper in half to close. Fold both ends in toward the center. Roll the wrapper up from the bottom, lengthwise, to form a tube. Enjoy!
In a food processor or blender add 1c butter, several nasturtium blossoms and the juice of a lemon and process until completely mixed. Use on seafood or vegetables. You can also add minced garlic to this if you wish for a variation.
Blend 8oz of softened creamed cheese with ½ cup softened butter. Add ½ tsp Worcestershire sauce and 1Tbs garlic herb blend. Pipe about a teaspoonful of the mixture into the center of each nasturtium flower. Fold the petals up around the stuffing. Chill for up to an hour before serving. Makes 30 appetizers
Nasturtium seeds can be pickled and used much like you would capers. After the blossoms fall, pick off the half-ripened nasturtium seed pods and drop them into a boiled and strained mixture of: 1qt white wine vinegar, 2tsp pickling salt, 1 thinly sliced onion, 1/2tsp each allspice, mace and celery seed plus 3 peppercorns. Keep refrigerated, adding more pods as available, and use as a variation for capers.
". . . I have given you all things even as the green herbs."