Nasturtium is a true wonder plant. The flowers look pretty, the plant is easy to grow, makes for a great companion in the garden and doesn’t require any maintenance. And on top of that, the whole plant is edible and packed with vitamins and antioxidants! So let’s take a closer looks at this miracle plant.
We often overlook Nasturtium and see it as a weed that grows on the edges of gardens or in public parks, but the plant is more versatile than that and it certainly has a lot more to offer.
Nasturtium or Tropaeolum majus is an ancient plant and dates back to the 1500s. Nasturtium is originally from South and Central America where people valued the plant for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory benefits. Therefore, the plant was popular as a herbal remedy. Traditionally, people used Nasturtium to brew teas or tonics for colds and sores. They also believed that the flowers, seeds and leaves could act as natural antibiotics.
We know today, that Nasturtium contains antioxidants like lutein which supports eye and skin health. In addition to that, it is a great source of vitamin C and trace elements which help support the immune system as well as respiratory and digestive systems.
Easy to grow and a great companion plant
Nasturtium is very easy to grow as it tolerates almost any soil. Furthermore, the plant self-seeds so it will grow every year and doesn’t require any maintenance at all. Nasturtium exists in a wide range of species and the flowers come in a variety of different colours ranging from white, yellow, orange to red.
The pretty flowers attract all kinds of beneficial insects which in return repel pests and pollinate flowers. For example, Nasturtium is a favourite of aphids. As the aphid population grows, it attracts more aphid-eating insects like ladybugs. This makes Nasturtium the perfect companion or sacrificial plant for the veggie garden.
Culinary wonder plant
But wait, that’s not all, Nasturtium plants are not only beneficial in herbal medicine and as a companion in the garden. As mentioned before, leaves, seeds and flowers of the plant are edible and offer a huge variety of culinary opportunities!
The flowers have a strong peppery flavour which makes them a great addition in salads, spreads, sandwiches or mixed in garlic/herb butter. In addition to that, the cute flowers make for a pretty decoration.
The leaves are less peppery than the flowers but equally delicious. Their flavour is similar to mustard greens and they taste great in salads, sandwiches or pesto. I recently made Nasturtium pesto and it tasted amazing. Scroll down for the recipe!
The seeds are versatile too and can be turned into substitutes for peppercorns or capers. I haven’t tried ‘Nasturtium peppercorns’ yet, but it certainly sounds intriguing. Collect the seeds, then dry and roast them. Once the seeds are roasted, they can be grinded like peppercorns for seasoning dishes.
Another great way to use the seeds is as a substitute for capers by pickling them in vinegar. I tried it recently and really like my ‘poor man’s capers’. See the recipe below.
Nasturtium pesto recipe
I love pesto because it’s so versatile and an invitation to experiment with flavours and ingredients. I often use whatever greens I have at hand, like carrot or beetroot greens. Click on the link to check out my recipe for carrot greens pesto.
Pesto, as you probably know, is super easy to make. So for Nasturtium pesto, simply use your favourite recipe and replace the basil with Nasturtium leaves or go half/half. For my pesto, I used a mix of Nasturtium leaves and basil.
- 3 cups of Nasturtium leaves or a mix of basil and Nasturtium
- 3-4 cloves of garlic (depending on the size of the cloves and personal taste)
- 3/4 cup of grated parmesan (optional, for a vegan version, replace parmesan with nutritional yeast.)
- 1/2 cup of olive oil
- 1/4 cup of pine nuts (or be experimental and go for cashews or walnuts.)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Add all the ingredients into a blender and mix them for a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Done! The pesto is perfect with pasta but also works on sandwiches or as a dip.
Poor man’s capers
This is a very easy recipe as it requires very few ingredients and utensils. However, this recipe will take some time. It is also recommend to ferment the seeds before pickling because this enhances the flavour.
- Container with a lid for fermentation
- Measuring cups
- Nasturtium seed pods (enough to fill your jar(s))
- 1/4 cup of salt
- 2 cups of water
- 2/3 of vinegar (or more depending on the size of your jar)
- 1 teaspoon of sugar
- 1 bay leaf and/or other herbs like thyme
So firstly, collect your seeds. Only pick the young green seeds from the plant. Don’t use brown ones or seeds that have fallen on the ground because they won’t taste good. Collect as many seeds as you like or fit in your jar(s). Rinse them to wash off any dirt. Then prepare the brine for fermentation.
Mix water and salt in a glass container or jar, add the seeds and close with a lid. Every 12 hours, strain the seeds and rinse them. Make a new brine and add the seeds. Repeat after 12 hours and let the seeds ferment for 48 hours in total.
After two days, strain and rinse the seeds. In a saucepan, add vinegar and sugar and bring to a boil over medium heat for 1 minute or so. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
Fill your jar(s) with the fermented seeds and pour the hot vinegar/sugar mix over the seeds so they are fully submerged. Optional, add bay leaves or other herbs. Let the jars cool down to room temperature, then seal them with the lids. Store them in the fridge. Done!