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Nasturtium

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What’s so Nasty about this great plant?

This is an herb that comes to us from South America and I, for one, am glad for it. Nasturtium plants were discovered in the jungles of Peru and Mexico in the 16th century. This is one of my most favorite herbs. But, when I ask most people if they have ever heard of nasturtiums, I get a quizzical look followed by the answer, no. This is very strange given how popular nasties (their nickname, pronounced nasty) used to be. I can pretty well assure you that your grandmother or great aunt had nasturtiums growing everywhere. They are so easy to grow and one of the prettiest splashes of color in anyone’s garden.

If you have kids that are showing an interest in gardening, nasturtiums are a perfect choice for their first garden. The seeds are large enough for small hands to handle easily. They are easy to grow, edible, cheerful and they are great companion plants as well. I thought I would mention this because we are at the very beginning of the spring planting season and getting a good start is always a plus. Nasturtiums help deter aphids, whiteflies, squash bugs, cucumber beetles and other pests. Plant them with tomatoes, radishes, cabbage, cucumbers, and under fruit trees. Their flowers come in vibrant colors, or muted tones. Their leaves can be variegated or plain, and some are fairly small while others can be used as a vine, climbing five feet or more.

Why do I consider nasturtiums an herb? The entire plant is edible. This peppery plant is perfect for salads, herb vinegars, appetizers and garnishes. The leaves can be added to salads for their peppery taste. The flowers make a very peppery and delicious vinegar. Some of the color of the flowers will leach into the vinegar, so if preparing it, use a white vinegar. The color of the final product is very nice. Try mixing assorted greens such as romaine, radicchio, spinach and arugula with a handful of nasturtium blooms topped with your favorite dressing. Bake a batch of spice cupcakes and frost with a cream cheese frosting and top with a single nasturtium bloom for a luncheon treat.

The seeds were ground during World War II as a replacement for pepper and you can still do this. Wait for the seeds to dry. They are larger than peppercorns. Once dried, grind them in a grinder like you would a peppercorn. You can add this mixture along with herbs to make a savory herb salt as well. Store in tightly closed bottles. Seeds, when still green, can be pickled as a substitute for capers.

Nasturtium Capers
After the blossoms wilt and form seed pods, pick the greenish pods off the plant.

Ingredients:

3/4 cup nasturtium seedpods, collected after flowers bloom but while still light green and fresh, picked over, separated and rinsed
1 cup water
2 tablespoons salt
Slightly less than 1 cup white wine vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
Aromatics: Peppercorns, mustard seeds, bay leaf, juniper berries, coriander

Mix the water with the salt in a bowl to make a light brine.  Pick over the pods, separate the hard ones, pick off the flower remnants, and rinse them off. Pour them into the brine, cover, and let them sit in the salt water bath for 24 -48 hours.  The raw seeds are quite mustardy and spicy – this helps them mellow out.

After they’re relaxed, drain them, but don’t rinse.  This is a light brine so it’s not overly salty.  Pack them into clean jars along with any aromatics you like (I use a few assorted peppercorns for color and a bay leaf).  Cover completely with the white wine vinegar, leaving about 1/4 inch headspace.

Put on the lid and store in the pantry or in the refrigerator.  They will keep indefinitely in the vinegar – no need to water bath can them.  I do refrigerate them after opening.  Give them at least two weeks before you try them out.  The longer they sit, the better.

Adapted from GirlMeetsDirt.com