Nasturtiums are great plants. They are easy to grow. The seeds are large and germinate quickly, so great for getting children interested in the garden. All parts are edible. The leaves taste slightly peppery and are delicious in salads and soups – not dissimilar in taste to watercress. The flowers are also edible, with a milder taste and, with their bright orange and red colours, are fantastic for glamorising a dish – whether a salad, a cake or just decorating a starter. The seeds can be pickled in vinegar and used instead of capers.
Yesterday I had lunch with a friend Anton at La Monde and he chose deep-fried courgette flowers. It occurred to me that deep fried nasturtium flowers would also be a great starter especially as I always have far more nasturtium flowers than courgette flowers and I also like to keep the flowers to make courgettes themselves! So here’s what I tried:
Nasturtium Flower Tempura
Make a batter from 100g of plain flour and 5g of baking powder. Add enough water, mixing all the time, to reach the consistency of smooth single cream. Heat some light oil in a deep pan with a basket until really hot and sizzling. Dip each nasturtium flour in the batter and then fry for a few minutes. Remove when starting to turn golden and serve immediately while hot. Delicious!
Pickled Nasturtium Capers
Pick the seeds off the plants when they are still green, but fairly large. Each seed grows in a group of three so it’s best to separate them – but not essential! Soak them in brine. Make enough brine to cover the seeds by adding 10g of salt to every 100ml of water. E.g. 30g salt to 300ml water, 50g salt to 500ml water and so on.
After soaking in the brine for 24 hours, take the seeds out, rinse them and put them into small sterilised glass jars, preferably still warm. Fill to the top with boiling white (clear) distilled vinegar. Seal with sterilised screw top lids and leave to mature for a month before eating.
Pickled nasturtium seeds on their own are peppery with a sort of nuttiness. They are great plain but you can also experiment with flavouring your vinegar with peppercorns, chilies and other spices like dill or fennel seeds.
Remember to leave some to ripen on the plants for next year. Plant lots as a trailing border in beds or in a rockery as they are quite happy in dry soils as long as they have sunshine!
Home Herbal Medicine: Nasturtium
The leaves, and to a lesser extent the flowers, are very rich in Vitamin C. The mustard oil content in the leaves makes them antibiotic, antifungal, antibacterial and possibly antiviral.
This makes a nasturtium leaves useful as a tea, or part of a tea blend, to ward off colds and flus. The mustard oil in the leaves may also help to clear stuffiness after a cold has started. To make a tea roughly chop some leaves and add two teaspoons to a cup. Add boiling water and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Strain and drink. One cup, three times a day.
Nasturtium leaves are a great addition to a medicinal diet as, apart from helping fight off infection and supporting the immune system, eating the leaves encourages the appetite and helps digestion. The antifungal qualities will help to regulate any yeast overgrowth (candida) or parasites but don’t eat too many or you may end up with a stomach upset from the mustard oil.
A strong tea can also be used externally. For this you will need 1/2 cup of chopped leaves, filled to the brim with boiling water, and allowed to infuse for 15 minutes. Strain and then cool! This can be used to soak a lightweight cloth to make a compress for bacterial or fungal type skin infections. Make a larger batch and use to soak feet twice a day if you have athletes foot or fungal feet. A cool tea may also be helpful as a douche where thrush is a problem but start with a weak tea first as internal tissues can be very, very sensitive. So patch test first, if in doubt.