Edible Flowers-Nasturtium or Indian Cress: Culinary Uses and Nutrition
Nasturtium, botanical name Tropaeolum majus, is a annual plant grown principally as an ornamental and to a lesser extent for its edible flowers, leaves and buds. The plant is also valued for its medicinal benefits.
Nasturtium originates from the cooler Andean regions of Peru, Colombia and Ecuador. In the 16th century the plant was introduced to Europe where it became known as Indian cress. It's thought this was because of the confusion, at that time, between the Indies and India, and also because the flavor of the nasturtium leaves are similar to cress. In the eighteen hundreds the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus named the genus Tropaeolaceae, which includes nasturtium, after the Latin word tropaeolum, meaning trophy. Linnaeus compared the funnel shape of nasturtium’s flowers to battle helmets and its flat leaves to shields, which were traditionally hung on trees after an army was victorious. Nasturtium plants were not valued as food until they were taken to the orient where the petals and buds were eaten and used to make tea.
There are about one hundred varieties of nasturtium, the most common of which is Tropaeolum majus, also know as ‘Empress of India.’ Some varieties are climbing plants that will climb around any object they make contact with and may grow to a height of 13-15 feet. However, most will not grow higher than a foot. The flowers are brightly colored and either yellow, orange, red or white.
Culinary Uses of Nasturtium
Nasturtium flowers and buds have a slight spicy flavor with a mustard-like aroma. They can be added to salads, but are best added after the vinaigrette so as to preserve their shape. The buds or seeds can be pickled and used as an alternative to capers. Nasturtium flowers make stunning garnishes for meat, fish or vegetable dishes. They are also used to garnish drinks. Do not eat flowers purchased at flower shops because they have probably been treated with chemical sprays. Instead buy them from grocers, or if you grow your own use a hose to spray off aphids and caterpillars, which are common pests attracted to nasturtium.
The Nutritional Value of Nasturtium
The leaves and petals of nasturtium are extremely nutritious as they contain vitamin C and iron. The leaves also have antibiotic properties which are at their most effective just before the plant flowers. In traditional medicine an ointment is made from nasturtium flowers and used to treat skin conditions as well as hair loss.
Antioxidants: A 2009 study by the Universidad Nacional de Colombia identified the group of phenols or phenolic compounds in the pigments of orange and red flowers of Tropaeolum majus as anthocyanins.Anthocyanins, which are abundant in blueberries and red cabbage, help naturalize the damaging effects of free radicals, thereby helping to protect us from chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. Anthocyanins are anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anticancer and antioxidant.