In 1885 Baron Ferdinand von Mueller noted that the leaves and flowers of this popular garden plant could be eaten as a replacement for cress and considered it to be -anti-scorbutic (scurvy-curing). Although nasturtium is known more for its culinary uses Europeans use the essential oil made from the plant as an antiseptic. Unfortunately, its vitamin C content has never been assessed so the plant's treatment of scurvy has never been substantiated.
A native of Peru, nasturtium was introduced to Europe in the sixteenth century by the Spanish conquistadors after their expeditions to South America. As long ago as 1837 the plant was growing as an ornamental in the gardens of Australian settlers who valued it not only for its hardiness and colourful blooms but also because it was good to eat.
The flower buds and young fruit of nasturtium were and still are pickled in vinegar and spices to make a substitute for capers and the leaves are used as cress, and served as a vegetable or added to salads to give them a peppery flavour.
Nasturtium tastes similar to cresses, capers and mustards because although it's not related to them they all share identical oils. In Australia in the 1800s the plant was known as Indian cress, in fact, nasturtium is the old name for watercress, which has the botanical name Nasturtium officinale.
Herb and Nasturtium Blossom Salad
1 kg/2lb mignonette or cos lettuce leaves
¾ cup of chopped fresh parsley, chives, and basil
8 nasturtium blossoms
Wash and pat or spin dry the lettuce leaves, add herbs and salad dressing and toss together. Garnish with the blossoms. Serves 4.
Proprietor, author, and tutor of The Home Herbalist Online Course.