Alternative names: Yellow larkspur, Indian cress, lark’s heel, flame flower
HOW TO IDENTIFY: Nasturtium’s circular leaves are connected to a long central trailing stem. The flowers are round and blousy, coming in bright yellow, orange or dark pink. Both flowers and leaves are edible and have a distinctive peppery flavour similar to rocket.
HISTORY: Nasturtiums originate from Peru, where Jesuit missionaries noticed that the indigenous Inca people used the plant as a salad vegetable and a medicinal herb.
In the late fifteenth century, Spanish conquistadors brought nasturtium seeds to Europe for herbalists, who quickly shared the seeds with each other and spread the plant throughout Europe. Nasturtiums became especially popular after King Louis XIV planted them in the gardens of the palace of Versailles. The herb was easy to grow and provided a source of both food and spice at a time when food was scarce in France.
Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, apparently loved growing nasturtiums and particularly enjoyed eating pickled nasturtium seeds.
Containing more vitamin C than many other plants, pickled nasturtium seeds were taken on board Victorian ships to prevent scurvy.
Dried and ground nasturtium seeds were used as a substitute for black pepper during the embargo of the Second World War.
FOLKLORE: The Victorians liked to use floriography, or the language of flowers, to communicate their feelings by using specific arrangements to convey coded messages to the recipient. Nasturtiums were used to represent “patriotism” and “conquest”.
In fact, there seems to have always been strong links with war and conquest, perhaps because nasturtium leaves resemble the shape of a shield. In the 1800s, soldiers customarily wore nasturtium flowers given to them by maidens as a sign that they had been victorious in battle.
Plant three red nasturtiums in your garden to keep unwanted visitors away.
FOLK MEDICINE: Nasturtium leaves ground with water and then strained create a natural disinfectant wash for minor cuts and scrapes, while chewing the leaves cleanses the mouth.
The plant is high in sulphur and has natural antibiotic properties. For this reason, a tea made from the leaves can be used as a steam to help clear acne or as a final rinse to relieve dandruff.
With lots of immune-boosting vitamin C, nasturtium tea made with the leaves and flowers can ease coughs and sore throats and speed up recovery time.
OTHER COMMON USES: Nasturtiums are widely used by organic vegetable gardeners as an effective companion plant. They attract bees and other pollinators and draw potential pests like aphids away from the main crop.
This vinegar is easy to make and harnesses the lovely peppery flavours of nasturtium flowers as well as their beautiful colour. Nasturtium leaves can be used in this vinegar, too, but bear in mind that the result won’t be as vibrantly coloured.
Enough pesticide-free nasturtium flowers to loosely fill a jar
White wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
Fill your jar with clean nasturtium flowers and cover them completely with vinegar.
Seal the jar with a non-metallic lid.
Leave the jar in a cool place for one to three weeks.
Strain out the nasturtium flowers and bottle the vinegar.
Use your peppery vinegar in salad dressings or marinades.