As the summer season winds down, there is always a poignant burst of energy and color in my upstate New York garden. Brilliant yellow sunflowers stand tall, tomatoes ripen to rich hues of russet and scarlet, and the vibrant oranges and golds of the nasturtiums pop against fading greens. Nasturtium flowers come in such wonderful hues that it’s tempting to eat them–and you can. They have a peppery taste that varies from subtle to rather strong.
Read on for step-by-step instructions for my recipe for nasturtium butter (and for other ways to eat nasturtium flowers and their seed pods):
Photography by Laura Silverman for Gardenista.
Above: Try nasturtium flowers in salads or as a lovely garnish on cold soups. The leaves are good raw or cooked, folded into an omelet or anywhere you would use watercress.
Above: What is typically referred to as “nasturtium” is actually a flowering plant from the genus Tropaeolum, which–because of its sharp, spicy flavor–borrows this name from a genus in the brassica family. The name literally means “nose-tweaker.”
Above: In many of my raised beds, nasturtiums serve as companion plants, helping to ward off bugs and beetles. They are most helpful in protecting broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, kale, squash, tomatoes, and potatoes. (The ground cherries in the background serve a similar purpose.)
Above: In the garden, nasturtiums are also trap crops for aphids. After the aphids are concentrated like this, you can eliminate them by spraying with soapy water or even by hand.
Above: In the kitchen, I make a flavorful compound butter with the petals. Use a mortar and pestle to mash about a cup of them into a paste and watch the colors intensify.
Stir the paste into a softened stick of butter, add a few pinches of sea salt, and blend it all together. Mold into a log, roll in parchment paper, and refrigerate or freeze. A pat of this on hot rice, a simple fish filet, or a grilled steak adds a richly spicy touch.
Above: After the flowers fall off the plant, little round seed pods are left behind. Pick these before they start to dry out and you have another delicious morsel. Sometimes called “nasturtium capers,” they have a sharp spiciness that can often veer into sinus-clearing horseradish territory.
Above: I preserve my nasturtium capers in a classic brine: white wine or cider vinegar, sea salt, a hint of sugar, garlic, red chile, black peppercorns, coriander, and yellow mustard seeds. I heat this and pour it over the pods in a glass jar, and keep adding more capers to the jar until the last plant gives up the ghost. Stored in the fridge, these will last for months.
Above: Their briny, spicy flavor is the perfect foil for a rich, oily cheese like Manchego. Toss them into a puttanesca sauce or sprinkle them into your next potato salad.
Above: Their notes of horseradish inspired me to eat them with gravlax–a perfect combination! It made me think they would also be good in a brine loaded with dill.
Above: The flowers and leaves are a treat in season, but the seed pods keep tweaking your nose all year long.
N.B.: For more recipes from Laura’s garden, visit her blog, Glutton for Life. Tour her garden in Garden Visit: A Cook’s Garden in Upstate New York. And read about how to grow nasturtiums in Field Guide: Nasturtiums.