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Nasturtiums, An Incredible Edible

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Orange and red nasturtium flowers and leaves, lightly stylized

Author: Nancy McDonald, Master Gardeners of Ottawa-Carleton; published with permission

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) are wonderful flowers for both our gardens and kitchens. This vibrant annual comes from South America, was brought to Europe in the 1550s and was found in Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Virginia, garden in the late 1700s. Some nasturtiums grow as climbers (3 m), others as trailers or semi-trailers. There are many hybrids available in colours other than bright orange.

Grow Nasturtiums from Seed

They all grow easily from seed and can either be started inside in early spring or, as I do, directly sown when all danger of frost has passed. The large seeds are easy for young fingers and were among the first seeds my grandchildren planted with germination in 7–10 days, adding a quick gratification for their efforts. Since I use nasturtiums as edible flowers, I prefer to grow my own. Late in summer, you can collect the mature dropped seeds, dry them on a cotton tea towel, and store them in a paper bag or envelope for next year’s planting. I find the squirrels or chipmunks plant a few around my garden, and I am always happy they do when some survive winter and appear in unexpected places.

Nutritional Value of Nasturtiums

Nasturtiums are one of the best-known edible flowers, and they come with nutritional value as excellent sources of vitamin C, as well as essential nutrients such as iron, potassium, manganese, and zinc. With their vibrant colours they also provide beta-carotene and the antioxidant lutein.

Almost every part of this plant is edible. Nasturtium leaves have a spicy, peppery flavour. I will let your taste buds decide if it is closer in flavour to watercress or radish. I find the flowers to be both zesty and sweet. Be encouraged to pick flowers as they appear, so more will follow.

Nasturtiums Salads and Other Additions

I gather nasturtium blossoms and leaves fresh from the garden and add them to salads. I particularly enjoy the flowers in salads with greens from my garden, such as baby kale, mesclun, and arugula. Flowers can be the finishing ingredient on flatbread just out of the oven, adding presentation flair to your table. I make an apple cider vinegar infusion with nasturtium flowers, rosemary sprigs, and peppercorns that is delightfully used all winter in marinades and salad dressings.

Jelly

In 2020, nasturtium jelly became a grandson’s favourite. I have also added nasturtium petals to my parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme jelly to give it a pretty colour. The petals can be a colourful addition to sandwiches or quesadillas. I have also used the flowers and petals in frittatas when I did not have other greens available and found I quite enjoyed them.

Pesto

Covid has certainly taught me to use what I have on hand. Pesto made from nasturtium flowers and leaves gave an earthy flavour that I brightened by adding lemon juice. At the end of the 2020 gardening season, I froze nasturtium leaves for the first time to add to winter soups, then asked myself why I had not done this before! My plan this year is to pickle some of the buds, as they resemble capers in taste and texture.

In Ice Cubes and On Cakes

Nasturtium flowers are colourful when frozen in ice cubes and then floated in a summer beverage. They look beautiful as decorations on cakes and cupcakes. I tend to pick the flowers as needed, but they can also be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of days if placed loosely in a plastic bag with a paper towel.

Now you can see why I call nasturtiums an incredible edible. There are many online recipes, plus books on edible flowers, available at the library. It is not too late to try some nasturtium recipes. Please do!

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