A favourite in the ornamental garden, nasturtiums also have a host of culinary and ornamental uses.
Flowers are often only touted for their beauty in colour and smell, but nasturtiums bring so much more to the table – specifically your dinner table. While Michelin-star chefs across the world toss nasturtiums into their salads and wedding planners use them to embellish cakes, the average person utters – ‘you can eat flowers?’ Indeed you can, and if you haven’t started yet you are missing out.
Nasturtiums are easy to plant and grow rapidly, so they are ideal for beginners and for gardening with children. They grow well in pots and can also be used as a colourful groundcover. The seeds should be planted in well-draining, moist soil. They will still grow in partial shade but the best way to yield as many flowers as possible is to plant them in full sun. Think twice before fertilising nasturtiums – fertile soil will actually produce fewer flowers, and the leaves could take over your garden! Once the seeds are sown the plants should appear quickly within 7 – 10 days. You can trim dying leaves or flowers to promote more growth, or cut back if the plant gets out of control as they tend to.
This plant is self-seeding, so be sure to save seeds to replant (or eat!). You can remove the flowers or leaves whenever you are ready for a tasty garnish. Even if you don’t plan on eating them, nasturtiums are great to grow in vegetable gardens as pest control for brassicas and soft vegetables like cucumbers or tomatoes. (Nasturtiums are planted as a sacrifical bait, drawing aphids and other pests away from your ‘more important’ plants.) Or they can simply be used to add some extensive colour and fun to your garden. The options are endless with this versatile flower.
They may look sweet, but nasturtiums have a surprisingly peppery taste, similar to mustard or watercress. This makes them great for salads or as a garnish on pasta dishes. This will delight lovers of root-tostem cooking as every part of the plant can be used, including the seed pods, which can be used as a substitute for capers. Most often they are used to decorate dishes and make dinners or desserts look a touch fancier.
Although nasturtiums are known for a beautiful garnish, they also pack a punch in health benefits. The leaves and petals are full of vitamin C, which strengthens your immune system and fights infection. These tiny flowers also have high levels of manganese, iron and other essential nutrients, and some studies suggest they even have antibiotic properties. The term ‘dynamite comes in small packages’ has never been truer.
You can throw some nasturtiums on just about anything that needs a spicy kick or a pop of colour. Say goodbye to boring, bland meals and bring some wonder into your cooking, direct from your garden.
Poor man’s capers
1 cup firm green nasturtium seed pods
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
5 – 8 peppercorns, crushed
Otherwise known as pickled nasturtium pods, poor man’s capers are the ultimate way to use the extra seeds from your nasturtium plant. The name doesn’t do them justice, but the fresh green pods have their own tangy mustard flavor, making them a great treat all on their own. Start by rinsing and draining the pods. If you are not a fan of strong bitter flavors you can let the pods sit in a saltwater brine for a few days to make them slightly more mellow, but for those who like a bit of zing, this step can be skipped. Heat the vinegar, salt, sugar and peppercorns in a pan to make the pickling mixture. All that’s left is to add the pods to the jar and pour in the liquid to cover them. Leave in the fridge for three months and enjoy your budget friendly capers!