Monday, 26 May 2014

Nasturtiums - edible and beautiful

In this post, my first under the new blog name, I'll be discussing the edible flowers and leaves of the nasturtium, tropaeolum majus, amongst other edible plants and garden related themes. This one has survived the winter, crawling along the ground, curling around other plants and exploding in a show of colour. Planted in a big pot with some rocket, long harvested and now bolted, it has provided endless interest for the past few months, when my 20ft high, 20 year old Ceanothus arboreus 'Trewithen Blue' broke in three and crashed into the garden, in the St Valentine's Day storm of 14th February 2014.

I've been trying to get rid of a very invasive ground cover bamboo Pleioblastus Pygmaeus so there hasn't been much else to look at, apart from dead branches, except the curious nasturtium.
The year before I grew a beautiful deep blood red nasturtium, but this one has many colours on the same plant from cream flushed apricot/orange, to vermilion contrasting with the blue-green circular leaves. It is the same plant, I've checked!

Native to South and Central America and sometimes called Indian Cress, the leaves and flowers are edible with a peppery taste not unlike the true Nasturtium (watercress) which is a member of the Brassica family. They aren't related! You can use them in a number of ways like these ones


It goes without saying that these flowers and leaves should be pesticide free, so it's better to grow them yourself than buy them from a nursery or shop. You can make nasturtium butters and infuse vinegar with the leaves and flowers, nasturtium pesto, and use the unripe seed pods as a substitute for capers. For more nasturtium recipes and ideas visit Tastespotting. Or how about some marigold tortillas? Or Egg and Tomato Salad with Marigold and Chive Flowers? There are many flowers you can use, from courgettes to herbs, to lavender and rose petals, to borage flowers in your Pimm's to flavoured sugars. Apart from adding a wonderful splash of colour, they provide interesting and unusual tastes.
Why not try a Tactile Dinner, from La Cucina Futurista (the Futurist Cookbook)? Diabolical Roses: Red roses, battered and deep-fried, or Taste Buds Take Off: A soup of concentrated meat stock, champagne, and grappa, garnished with rose petals — “a masterpiece of brothy lyricism.” Heston Blumenthal, eat your heart out! This bonkers manifesto has been tainted by association with Mussolini who adopted it, but it contains some delightful and challenging concepts and ideas about food. The Futurists were concerned with, among other things, abolishing pasta and the knife and fork. 

A good source of information is the Edible Flower Shop, where you can also buy seeds, plants and dried petals - at a premium - so you might want to take the ideas and buy the seeds somewhere else. If you are catering, try Maddox Farm Organics. A list of edible flowers with links to photographs, and a companion list of toxic plants, is on About.com
Big mess o'branches!

Brie, studded with violas (from the Edible Flower Shop blog)
Glorious painterly nasturtium flowers all on the same plant
 
Big basil leaf - last year these grew hand-sized
Last but not least, a species daylily that has been in my garden for some years and has decided to produce flowers again this year. It is Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus, a plant grown since the 16th century and has sweetly scented flowers.

The beautiful and scented Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus (bought as H. flava) - they last more than a day, too