Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wild Edibles; Nasturtium

Distinctive Nasturtium foliage
Much like Dandelions, Nasturtiums are less often seen as a food crop and more as a decorative plant, but this South American plant captivated early explorers who took it back with them first to Spain and then over to England in the early 1500's where it's lovely, edible flowers and leaves continue to grace tables to this day. They have a reputation as a "grow anywhere" plant and indeed do well in containers and gardens alike. Here in the bay area they cover large swathes land on hillsides and in meadows to the extent that you'd think they were a native species and after a couple hundred years it's hard to tell the difference anyway.

Growing in a planter 
I'd been thinking about this post for a while and managed to get out and snap a quick photo but didn't have time to gather any. The leaves are on all year in this area but the flowers are more prevalent in warmer weather. I really have no excuse for not growing these in the yard other than the couple times I planted them we had prolonged dry spells while we were away and they didn't have time to establish themselves. Something I should remedy this spring with another planting or at least a potted plant or two.

Once in a great while you'll find the blossoms in markets and nicer groceries but I can't remember ever seeing the leaves available. Both blossoms and foliage have a spicy flavor and a pleasant texture and can be used in a number of ways from salads to cooked greens. The seed pods are also sometimes pickled and referred to as "poor man's capers". Though, I would wager, a jar of pickled Nasturtium would cost a bit more than a jar of capers if you could find anywhere to buy it.

As I write this, it occurs to me that recipes might also be of benefit so I'll try to gather some and post a recipe or two. While not overly popular these days, Nasturtium found it's way onto a lot of tables in the past. My best guess is that it will be one of the pop culture foodie plants we'll be seeing a lot more of before long. They have quite a bit more to offer beyond a splash of color in a salad.

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