The origin of nasturtium is in Central and South America. It is native to Peru and to Chile. The Inca people consumed nasturtium in much the same way that it is used today, which is mostly in salads. The plant was brought to Spain in the 16th century by Nicolas Monardes, a Spanish physician and botanist. At this point in history, nasturtium was referred to as Indian cress.
Traditional uses for nasturtium in Central and South America included as an expectorant and a disinfectant.
Nasturtium was documented by English herbalist John Gerard in 1597. He likened it to members of the Ranunculaceae family.
In the 18th century, botanist Carolus Linnaeus gave the plant its generic name: Tropaeolum as a reference to a practice by soldiers in Ancient Rome. The soldiers would erect a trophy pole. The word trophy and the name Tropaeolum both have their origin in the Greek word tropaion, which means trophy. On this pole, they would hang their defeated enemy’s armor and weapons. Linnaeus thought the leaves of the nasturtium plant looked like shields and its flowers like helmets stained with blood.
The name nasturtium is from Watercress’s Latin name: Nasturtium officinale. It was given the name because of the similarity between its flavor and that of watercress.
Nasturtiums featured in the work of artist Henri Matisse. Monet also had them growing in his garden.
Nasturtium flavor profile
The leaves of the nasturtium plant have a mildly spicy flavor. The blooms fall into the category of edible flower along with other examples like violet and viola flowers. The flavor profile is dominated by a spiciness that is similar to the heat that you get from mustard, radish, and watercress. The blooms have a milder flavor than the leaves. The flower buds are edible as well. Nasturtium buds and seed pods can be pickled and used as substitutes for capers.
Health benefits of nasturtium
Nasturtium has profound health benefits mainly because it contains the following compounds:
- Lutein: Lutein is a carotenoid that is associated with eye health. Nasturtium is the edible plant source with the highest amount of lutein.
- Vitamin C: Nasturtium is a great source of the antioxidant vitamin C, which makes it valuable for strengthening the immune system.
- Minerals: Nasturtium has iron and manganese among the minerals that it provides.
Because of the nutrients above and many others, you can use nasturtium to treat or prevent various health problems like:
- Eye Health: The lutein in nasturtium makes it valuable for preventing macular degeneration and cataracts.
- Infections: Nasturtium has historically been used for its antibiotic properties. Nasturtium leaves can be used to make a tea that can help to prevent colds and flu.
- Health concerns: Nasturtium contains oxalic acid, which binds with certain minerals and reduces their absorption. Oxalic acid can also cause other problems like kidney stones and gout.
Both the leaves and the blooms of the nasturtium plant are edible and you can add them to salads. You can also chop them and use them as a garnish for soups, omelets, and other dishes. Nasturtium leaves can also be stuffed and cooked like grape leaves or you can cook them down the way that spinach and other greens are cooked. You can add nasturtium can to cream cheese and use it to make compound butters.