A gallery of edible and useful wild plants, in Wellington and the Wairarapa (NZ)
Friday, March 5, 2010
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
I like to think of nasturtiums as the go-to plant for finger foods.
Filled nasturtium leaves are yummy: Pick small leaves, leaving a long stem on them, dollop filling onto them, and roll them up, securing them by tying the stem around the roll.
You can also fill and eat the vivid flowers. Arrange them on a plate, and drop filling into their centres. Leave them open. (Okay, there might be a way to close them - but I haven't managed to do it yet!)
Nasturtium leaves and flowers make good club sandwich ingredients as well.
For something a bit more substantial, pick larger nasturtium leaves and stuff them and cook them, using a stuffed grape-leaves recipe as inspiration.
As far as flavours go, nasturtiums are known for going well with cream cheese, salmon (smoked or not), nuts like almonds and walnuts, cucumber, and chives.
I like to make a spread from creamy feta cheese, mixed up with cream and chopped chives. It goes nicely with nasturtiums in club sandwiches (along with any of those other ingredients above), and also makes a nice base for a filling for the leaves and flowers (add whatever else you like as well). I got the idea from this - my favourite page of nasturtium recipes. (Although a google search will reveal many more.)
Nasturtiums are also great in Italian inspired dishes.
After nasturtium plants have finished flowering, you can pickle the seed pods in vinegar and brine or whey to make mock capers.
There are many species and varieties of nasturtium around the world. They originated in South America - probably in the Andes - where they apparently grow up and down the mountainsides, evolved into many forms - each species adapted to its own altitude and climate.
They're not in the same family as the Brassicaceae, but they're in the same order, which is just a little more distant. They share some features with Brassicaceae - like the mustard oil they contain.
Health and medicine
Like other mustardy plants, nasturtiums are known to be good for respiratory ailments. Some people say you should chew on a few nasturtium leaves if you feel a cold coming on.
An interesting piece of trivia - a scientific study recently showed that small nasturtium leaves contain higher concentrations of vitamin C than large ones.