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!)