Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) has peppery-tasting, flat, circular leaves that resemble water lily pads and colourful, open trumpet-shaped blossoms, each ending in a curved, cone-shaped tip that’s slightly sweet and peppery. Nasturtium means “nose twist,” referring to its sharp, biting flavour.
Although unrelated botanically, nasturtium is often grouped with cresses because their flavours and uses are similar, and in fact, the botanical name for watercress is Nasturtium officinale. The colourful, edible, though fragile nasturtium blossoms may be found in colours such as tangerine, salmon, gold, deep red mahogany, scarlet, and cherry red; some are speckled. The young fresh leaves and flowers give bite to savoury foods, and the unripe seed pods are pickled as an inexpensive substitute for capers; though larger than capers, they’re just as tasty. In Europe and North America, nasturtium is combined with cottage cheese, butter, or cream cheese as a filling for tea sandwiches.
- Other Names
- Kappertjie (South Africa Afrikaans); Blomkarse (Norwegian); blomsterkarse or kapuciner karse (Danish); cappuccina, nasturzio del Perù, or nasturzio indiano (Italian); capuchina, espuela de Galán, or nasturcia (Spanish); capucienerkers (Dutch); capucine or cresson d’Inde (French); chaga seca (Portuguese); common nasturtium; garden nasturtium; indejskij kress, kaputsin-kress, or nasturtsiya (Russian); Indian cress; indiankrasse (Swedish); indische kresse or kapuzinerkresse (German); kova ha-nazir (Hebrew); ladan (Farsi); lâtin çiçeği (Turkish); nabatu al-kabbusin (Arabic)
- The plants flower in mid to late summer. The leaves are best when they’re young, early in late spring.
- Purchase and Avoid
- Nasturtium is always used fresh. Choose lively, brightly coloured blossoms without shriveling or brown edges. To avoid pesticides, buy blossoms packaged for eating or garnishing, or from a farmers’ market.
- The blossoms are quite fragile and will keep 1 to 2 days at most after picking. For best results, arrange flowers in a single layer on dampened paper towels and enclose in plastic before refrigerating.
Sprinkle chopped young nasturtium leaves on light vegetable soups, scrambled eggs, or omelets.
Sprinkle nasturtium blossoms on ceviche or thinly sliced raw tuna, salmon, or beef carpaccio.
They add a refreshing bite to a classic potato salad with hard-boiled eggs and a mayonnaise dressing.
A handful of the bright coloured flower petals are delicious chopped into a shrimp or crab salad sandwich filling.
The whole flowers and leaves make a great garnish for a platter of grilled salmon.
Toss them among sweeter greens like butterhead or crunchy Batavian lettuce, rather than with other bitter greens.
Inexpensive caper substitute
For tastiest nasturtium leaves, keep the plants well watered, which helps to moderate the spiciness of the leaves and flowers.
After picking nasturtium flowers for eating, make sure to double check that you’ve washed out any insects that might be hiding within the spurs! I prefer breaking the petals into salads rather than using them whole to keep the flavour less overwhelming, but whole flowers make beautiful and festive decorations.
Another of my favorite uses of nasturtium flowers is as decorations atop frosted birthday cupcakes. Children are invariably delighted that the flowers are edible, too! Press the flowers on just before serving so that they look freshest and most enticing.
For grownup parties, use the petals to decorate any savoury open-faced sandwiches.
However you use them, spicy-sweet nasturtium flowers are a wonderful way to introduce edible flowers from the garden to both children and uninitiated adults.
Nasturtiums are easy to grow; choose a well-drained site with soil that is not too rich in nitrogen (since too much nitrogen results in lots of foliage, but fewer blooms). Add compost in very sandy soil, though, to help hold moisture. In areas with cool summers, nasturtiums grow well in full sun, but in hot summer areas, afternoon shade and plenty of moisture give best results. Press the large seeds directly into the ground after no more frost is expected and the soil is warmed up. After nasturtiums are established, they will self-seed prolifically.
Category: Spices and Herbs
Sub Category: Herb
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