The nasturtium plant (tropaeoleum majus) is one of the most useful plants in the garden. It attracts pollinating insects and acts as a sacrificial plant for brassicas by attracting caterpillars to its leaves. Its flowers, leaves, seed pods and seeds are prolific & edible and it readily self-seeds. The whole plant has a peppery, watercress-like taste: the flowers are mildest and the seed pods the strongest.
Eventually, the cold weather will kill off the plants in all but the warmest areas. There are a few ways to enjoy the colour and flavour of all parts of nasturtiums through the winter season and beyond.
Nasturtium Flower Butter
Use this stunning butter to flavour & colour steamed vegetables, mashes, poultry or fish.
Also try the butter on toast with strawberry jam for an unusual combination.
125g butter, slightly softened (I use unsalted and add salt to taste, salted will work just fine)
About 10 young nasturtium flowers without green stalk
3-6 nasturtium leaves without green stalk
Zest of an unwaxed lemon (optional, you can use orange or lime if you fancy)
Sea salt, to taste
Check the nasturtium flowers & leaves for insects and wash if you feel necessary or are unsure about what's been on the plant.
Chop the flowers and leaves fairly finely without reducing them to a puree. I think a very sharp knife is best for this. A processor will tend to mash them.
Start to cream the butter in a bowl with a fork, wooden spoon or similar.
Add the zest of your fruit if you are using this and beat until thoroughly combined.
Add the flowers and leaves and thoroughly mix into the butter.
Take a sheet of greaseproof paper or of cling film and lay the butter lengthways in a rough cylinder shape. Use the paper/film to help you roll the butter into a neat cylinder. Twist the ends of the paper. Chill until you are ready to use.
To preserve, pack into a freezer bag or cover in foil and pop in the freezer. Give it a little time to warm up and soften a bit before you use.
Use these just as you would capers: in salads, sauces, mayonnaise, pasta dishes and pickles
These are dead easy to make, the trick to success is in picking the right seed pods.
As the pod gets more mature, the pod acquires a reddish blush and the seed within begins to get harder. So you want young pods. Look for pods with just a little or no blush, that are smaller and which you can mark with a finger nail.
The pods tend to come in threes on the end of the stalk. Ideally collect them on a dry day.
There are two ways of 'pickling' them. One is to brine them briefly and then store in a flavoured vinegar. The other is to ferment them in a brine solution (like making sauerkraut) and then store in the fridge.
A brine solution made up with 50-60g of sea salt for each litre of water. 500ml will be fine for a small amount of seed pods. Pop your pods into a measuring jug to see how much volume of brine you may need.
Nasturtium Seed Pods
Choose one or two from the following or use your own favourite flavours:
For the vinegar version, about 200ml of white wine or cider vinegar for every 100g of seed pods
Split the seed pod threes into singles and wash & dry them if they need it.
Immerse in the brine solution in a bowl. Use a plate or bowl to keep them under the liquid.
For the fermented version
Add what flavour herbs or spices you fancy.
Cover with a tea towel of piece of muslin to keep insects out but allow the air in. Air is important for the fermentation to work, so don't try to so this is a narrow necked jar. Leave in a warmish place (about 20°C) for about 10 days. Give a stir each day and start tasting the seed pods after about 5 days. If any scum or mould appears on the surface of the brine, just scrape off – it's not harmful to the seed pods.
Once the seed pods are as tender as you like and tasting good, then pop the seed pods, flavourings and enough brine to cover into a sterilised jar, pop on a lid and keep in the fridge. They are ready to use immediately.
For the vinegar preserved version
Cover the brine solution to keep insects out and leave for about 24 hours or so.
Drain the nasturtiums and dry to eliminate as much moisture as possible which will dilute the vinegar.
Place the seed pods in a sterilised jar or jars leaving about 1cm headspace.
Tuck in the one or two of the flavouring ingredients and cover with the vinegar. Put on vinegar proof lids. Allow to mature for a few weeks before using. Store in a cool, dark place.
Carl Legge lives on the Llyn Peninsula in Wales on a permaculture smallholding and writes a regular blog full of delicious recipes and more. He is currently writing The Permaculture Kitchen, a book of seasonal, local, home-grown delicious recipes for Permanent Publications, the book publishing arm of Permaculture magazine.