16 Aug 2014

Edible Gardens: Nasturtiums

It's not so much that I love to grow nasturtiums (I do) but that they love to grow for me. Every year, around this time, they seem to take over their corner of the garden, stretching multiple stems out to sprawl among the veg, growing through netting and up poles (with help). By now the stems can be over four feet long and covered with flowers and then fat 3-part seedpods. These seedpods are so numerous that it's impossible to prevent them sinking quietly into the soil where they decompose to provide next year's flood tide of nasturtiums. It's a self-perpetuating cycle. I seem to have inadvertently ended up with quite a few prolific self-seeders in the garden (orach, fennel, linaria, aquilegia) and nasturtiums rank highly among these.



Luckily, nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) is a bit of a wonder plant - I've been discovering that it's not just a pretty face but really earns its keep in the edible garden. Because of its antibacterial, antiseptic and antibiotic qualities, it has many medicinal uses; an infusion of the leaves can help treat respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis, flu and colds (probably best taken with honey). Additionally, because it's antiseptic, a poultice of the leaves can be applied to wounds; admittedly unlikely to be useful to urban or suburban dwellers but, well, you never know.

Back in the kitchen, I already knew that the young lilypad-like leaves can add a peppery bite to salads or be used when making pesto. The flowers, being edible, can make a tasty addition to salads, a summer fruit bowl or jug of party drinks. Or get creative and top a pizza with them for a girlie teenage sleepover party? I can't guarantee the reaction but it just might be cool enough to be acceptable.

Florally speaking, I've found that newly-opened flowers, freshly picked, will last for up to a week in a glass (or vase!) of water - make a sweet country garden arrangement by adding  herbs such as fennel, lovage or mint which also last well in water.  It helps that in the garden they're a bee magnet and I grow nasturtiums in every shade from deep red through orange to cream.  My favourites are a glamorous showstopper called 'Black Velvet' and its alter-ego 'Milkmaid'.  But it was to the orange ones that I turned when I decided to make nasturtium vinegar last month. I'm quite partial to honey and mustard dressing or, let's face it, a big dollop of mayonnaise (yes, from a jar). But, flicking through Pam-the-Jam's preserve book for the River Cottage series, I couldn't resist the lure of discovering another use for all the nasturtiums in the garden - flavoured vinegar.


Packed and ready to go ...

The method is simple enough: a wide-necked jar packed full of flowers, a small palmful of seed pods, a few peppercorns, some salt and a couple of chopped shallots. Cover with white wine vinegar (obviously, use a good one), seal and leave on a sunny windowsill for about a month, giving it a little shake every so often.

Patiently admire its translucent beauty for 30 days ...

… then strain into a clean jar and add fresh flowers.


I started a jar off in July and my vinegar project is now complete, with the now-pink vinegar strained into a clean jar with a few extra flowers added.  The taste is subtle but pleasing.  The original recipe suggests using it in a dressing made with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 100ml nasturtium vinegar and 200ml olive oil. Mmmm, yum - a delicious way to bring a fresh tang to your salads.

Thinking ahead:  I'm a big fan of presents with a bit of thought and effort behind them. In a beautiful bottle or jar, with a ribbon and hand-written label, I think a bottle of nasturtium vinegar would make a simple and unusual present for a keen cook.  Nasturtiums will start to slow down by the end of this month - although they won't keel over until the first frosts - so this is a project that's best started now. It's also a great project to do with children, especially if they're the ones growing the nasturtiums next year.

In the photo below, you'll see a couple of jars of 'capers' from nasturtium seed pods. Right now is an excellent time to be gathering these - and a useful way of reducing the tide of seedlings next year.  More about these in the next post.

Herbed nasturtium capers, nasturtium vinegar and a pretty vase for the kitchen windowsill.
(The physalis in the front were just picked from my Cape Gooseberry plant and are my treat to myself!)

30 comments:

  1. When I was at (boarding) school, we were allowed a small patch of ground each to cultivate. I remember that Nasturtiums were very popular, because they are quick and easy to grow and highly decorative. Your pink vinegar looks very attractive, but I would never have thought of putting it together with soy sauce!

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    1. Neither would I, Mark, but it's the suggestion of Pam Corbin, who teaches at, and makes preserves for, River Cottage. I've just made her chutney recipe which is really tasty (and probably even better after the flavours mature) so I'm quite happy to give her suggestion a go. The result is probably not dissimilar to making a dressing with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

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  2. We have lots of nasturtiums too bit so far I've never eaten any, I have had pickled nasturtium seed pods though - made by someone else.

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    1. Ah, it would be interesting to know what you thought of them, Sue. I suppose it depends on whether you already liked capers and then you'd have a good comparison.

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  3. I really must grow some of these next year, especially the two colours you mention, they sound lovely. I fancy trying the peppery leaves and flowers, and they always look so pretty too. I'll look forward to hearing about the capers. Have a good Sunday Caro. CJ xx

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    1. Thanks, CJ - you can get nasturtiums as trailing or dwarf varieties - something to look out for if you're limited for space! I have both and the dwarf varieties are very well behaved in a windowbox. As other people will no doubt tell you, once you grow them once, you've got them forever! C xx

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  4. I have never known that nasturtium have a lot of benefit. Thanks for sharing. This is for the second time I sowed nasturtium seeds. They've not germinate yet. My first experience, they germinate 6-8 weeks. But then the seedling getting drought and died. I don't know, how about the normal germination on the subtropic area. I have to learn about it soon, I think.

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    1. They are related to the watercress family of plants, Endah, which would suggest to me that they don't like to be deprived of water. In the UK, my seedpods drop into the soil and decompose to release the seed inside; they have the whole winter to germinate and then appear as soon as the weather starts to warm up. So reliable. Perhaps you could just water, water, water - and put them in a nice shady, slightly cooler, corner?

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  5. An interesting, and informative, post, and good pictures.
    As you know I like nasturtiums so grow lots on the plot. They really are an amazing plant aren't they.
    Flighty xx

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    1. It's a plant I'd hate to be without, Flighty! I love to see them rambling all over the place but am quite ruthless in cutting them back when they get too vigorous! They make lovely little cut flowers too! (But let's not talk about black aphids, eh?)

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  6. I mistakingly allowed my nasturtiums to set seed a few years ago and have never been without them since, they pop up everywhere. I grew a lovely variety this year, Peach Melba, which I'd seen mentioned on a few blogs and really liked the look of, I've been meticulous in dead heading though, I don't want the same results from these plants.

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    1. It's the same story here, Jo. I'm not sure I realised how prolific they were when I first grew them and now I find them between paving cracks, at the edge of raised beds - in fact, their random appearances are rather pretty. I've been picking more and trying to curb the huge numbers of seedpods but I know I've missed quite a few! Still, I'd hate to be without them next year, there's some very interesting colours appearing as a result of cross-pollination.

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  7. I have them growing all over the place this year far away from where they were originally planted smothering everything. I do love them though especially the deep orange and red but I will have to be brutal this year - trouble is the seeds fall off so readily - they are growing on the bark paths too - oh dear.

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    1. They are truly resilient, Elaine. I have them coming up in the cracks in the brick paths, creeping out from under the raised beds - in fact, anywhere there is a dot of soil. I have learned, at last, to be ruthless.

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  8. Once sown no need to ever sow again! Would not be without nasturtiums at the allotment. This year I added 'Blue Bepe' which I'm sure you mentioned last year Caro. They have positively glowed all summer so thank you for the recommendation. Thanks also for the recipe idea. My sister is a keen cook and I'm sure would appreciate nasturtium vinegar. I might have a Christmas present done and dusted before December which would be a first. How are you going to use the physalis?

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    1. Yes, Blue Pepe was one I recommended, Anna - glad you've enjoyed it! I still love it, the contrast of red flowers and blue/green leaves is a joy. I'm afraid the physalis are just eaten fresh, I really like the taste of them. So much so that I'm going to grow another bush from seed next year. I bought some from the shops last week, just for a taste comparison, and found shop bought rather horrid. The home-grown physalis have a perfect sweet/sharpness so well worth growing.

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  9. Isn't the nasturtium a versatile plant, it grows without any pampering in just about any conditions. I loved this post, I am always interested in finding out more about the medicinal properties of plants and herbs, it's a bit of an obsession with me. Your viniger looks so pretty, I just love home made products.xxx

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Dina, thanks! I firmly believe in the healing power of plants - even my son will reach for honey/lemon/ginger before Lemsip when he has a cold! I often think I was born into the wrong era as I love preserving, baking, etc, even though it's hardly necessary in these days. xx

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  10. Really enjoyed reading this post and as we have some nasturtiums in full flower at the allotment I think we're going to have to try the nasturtium vinegar - looks very pretty!

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    1. I hope you have a go - it's actually quite a lovely and easy thing to do with children, especially the flower gathering! Makes a pretty present too!

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  11. Ooo that would make a great present - and it looks so pretty too - Good old Pam the Jam!

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    1. Absolutely! Just add pretty vintage bottle, label and ribbon! I can't tell you how inspired I am with her recipes - I'm soon going to need a bigger kitchen!

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  12. I have to confess that I am not very keen on eating nasturtium flowers - or most flowers, in fact, I don't like the texture. Young leaves, however, are yummy, even my youngest nephew thinks so. I like the idea of the vinegar though, you may have tipped me over the edge of my dithering as to whether to buy Pam's book. Nasturtiums definitely appear to be one of those plants that, once sown, you are never without.

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    1. Excellent that you've got your nephew to enjoy the taste of nasturtium leaves, they can be a bit peppery! I think any grower/cook would enjoy Pam Corbin's book as it demystifies the processes around preserving. It certainly boosted my confidence as well as providing plenty of inspiration! I might even try making some fruit leathers next as they're so expensive in the shops. (Think YoYo Bears and fruit strips.)

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  13. That looks very appetising Caro, didn't even until now that you can do that to Nasturtium blooms! Love it on salads but this one looks great, both on the cupboard and I can imagine on the palate too.

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    1. Thanks, guys! I think it would be very lovely to put out a bottle of nasturtium vinegar for vinaigrette when having an al fresco lunch. I love experimenting and, luckily, this one worked! (They don't always.)

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  14. That is amazing, I have never tried Nasturtium vinegar, I know my daughter would love a jar of that, many thanks for the idea!

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    1. You're welcome, Pauline - hope your daughter enjoys it!

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  15. Tried to leave a comment while I was away last week. It was something along the lines of your nasturtium vinegar looking really good, but that we had a serious infestation of blackfly on the nasturtiums, so probably not going to work here. The comment didn't get through, and while I was away the nasturtiums dried out (in pots with no one to water them). Now there's not a blackfly in sight on the completely desiccated plants - I'll be applying for the patent on extreme organic pest control... but still no flowers to make vinegar with!

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    1. Thank you for the comment that didn't appear! Blogger can be so mischievous at times. I loathe blackfly and this year they've been particularly numerous. Bizarrely, they've swarmed all over my beans - first broad beans, then french - but not on my nasturtiums which rather defeats the object of growing nasturtiums as a 'companion plant'. What a pity that your nasturtiums were infected and such a shame to come back to dried out plants! We've certainly had some sunshine and heat this year!

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Caro x

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