Nasturtium: what's edible?
All parts of the nasturtium plant are edible: flowers, leaves, stems, and young seed pods (mature seed pods have a very hard, unpleasant seed inside). All of these parts have a distinct peppery flavor similar to radishes. That bite is strongest in the seeds and lightest in the flowers. The leaves can sometimes have a very slight bitter taste that isn't present in the rest of the plant.
While the whole nasturtium plant is edible, each part has various uses, like using the stems in place of chives or large leaves as wraps.
Nasturtium flowers come in a variety of colors. The color can be an important consideration because petals will dye infusions. I grow the Kaleidoscope Mix and haven't noticed a flavor difference between the different colored flowers. They all taste very slightly floral with that spicy bite at the end.
Best uses & recipes
They are best picked in the morning: after the dew has evaporated but before the midday heat sets in (and can make them wilt). That being said, most of the time I pick mine at 6pm, right before I finish making dinner. They are usually a bit more delicate when I do this, but still work out just fine.
Wash gently in cold water (to remove bugs) and dry on a paper towel.
Uses & recipes
- Salad: use whole flowers or pull the petals apart. Add to the salad as a garnish instead of mixing them in with the dressing.
- Vinegar: a nasturtium-infused vinegar is peppery and works great in salad dressings or anything that benefits from a splash of vinegar. It's also a bright red-orange color that looks cute for gifts.
- Salt: dry the flowers (leaves work too), then crush and mix with sea salt. Not only will it be pretty - it adds a unique peppery flavor to a dish. I use this as a finishing salt.
- Vodka / tequila: infuse alcohol with nasturtium for a unique take on classics like a bloody mary or margarita.
- Garnish: the flowers make pretty garnishes on appetizers, charcuterie boards, pasta, and pretty much anything you can think of.
Nasturtium leaves, both large and small, are completely edible. The young leaves are usually more tender than the larger ones, but that's not always the case. In the spring and early summer, I notice the large leaves are just as tender as the small ones. But later in the season, and especially in the fall, they are tougher.
The leaves have a generic green plant-like taste (like a lot of salad greens), with the sharp peppery bite that shows up several seconds later. The leaves can sometimes have just a slightly bitter taste on the finish as well. I can't taste a difference between the small and large leaves.
How to use the leaves
Pick the leaves any time of day. You might want to pick only small or only large ones, depending on the use. For example, small leaves can be used whole in a salad, whereas large ones work well for stuffing. Give them a good wash in cold water. They are quite sturdy and will hold up in a salad spinner.
Best uses & recipes
- Salad greens: use whole or chopped for salads. Since nasturtium has that peppery bite, you may want to mix in other more mild greens. Their peppery flavor goes well with goat cheese, fresh and dried fruits.
- Replace spinach: anywhere spinach is used, you can replace some (or all) of it with nasturtium leaves. This includes things like lasagna, minestrone, creamed spinach, quiche, quinoa or veggie patties, and spinach artichoke dip.
- Pesto: a unique pesto to use on pasta, bread, or swirl into some minestrone. You can also use half basil and half nasturtium leaves for a more classic flavor.
- Replace grape leaves: large nasturtium leaves get as big as grape leaves and can easily be used for things like greek dolma.
- Muffin tin liner for mini quiches
- Salt: in addition to flowers, leaves can be dried and crushed into a gourmet salt.
- Infusions: leaves can also be used for infusions. The flavor will be similar to the flower infusions, and they don't impart a green color.
Nasturtium stems are crisp, yet tender. They are very similar to the texture of fresh chives. The stems can be used to replace chives in any recipe where you want to add nasturtium's characteristic bite. For example:
- As a garnish: baked potatoes, pasta, gratins, stir fry, garlic bread, salad, and nearly anything else
- Add to pesto: add to any recipe from a traditional basil pesto to a nasturtium-leaf pesto
- Fold into an omelet: the leaves and flowers can be added as well. Check out this herbed omelet with halloumi and nasturtiums.
- Sandwiches: add to any sandwich for a unique flavor (mix in with mustard or sprinkle on top of cheese)
- Compound butter that gets used on bread, fresh grilled corn on the cob, etc
Nasturtium seed pods are also edible and have the strongest flavor. Seed pods grow in groups of three and hide on long stems under the foliage. Pick them anytime they are green and still slightly soft. Avoid the mature yellow ones that have dried out (which contain a very hard, unpleasant tasting seed).
The seeds have the strongest bite, often stronger than most people want. However they mellow out when pickled and make an excellent replacement for capers (get pickling recipe). Try them in chicken piccata, potato-lentil salad, or pasta with garlic caper butter.
All nasturtiums are edible (just like all tomato varieties are edible). Nasturtium plants are not poisonous to people (but could be for cats and dogs).
In fact, several major seed distributors (Burpee, Johnny's Selected Seeds, and Baker Creek Heirloom) all mention the edibility of nasturtium at the top of the nasturtium varieties pages.
"Nasturtiums have delicious flowers and leaves, perfect for salads and soups, and this plant makes a world-class pesto!" - Baker Creek Heirloom
"A popular edible flower, the trumpet-shaped blooms of nasturtium have a sweet, mildly spicy flavor, making a colorful garnish or addition to salads. The peppery-tasting foliage is also edible." - Johnny's Selected Seeds
"Cute as can be, nasturtium bloom in cheerful colors and are prized by cooks for their slightly peppery flavor — a delicious ingredient in stir fries, pesto and omelets, as well as a very pretty salad garnish." - Burpee
Here's a sample list of varieties to try in your garden:
- Alaska mixes
- Bloody mary
- Cherry rose jewel
- Empress of India
- Orchid cream
- Tip top rose
- Tom thumb black velvet
- Whirly bird rose