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The Flower You Can Really Eat!

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If you are looking for a plant for your garden that will spread like wildfire, have an ocean of brightly-colored blossoms, and be tasty, there is only one that will fit in:

Nasturtiums!

Nasturtium is an easy-to-grow annual whose leaves and flowers are edible. These plants with their bright greenery and vibrant flowers are good for containers or ground covers. Their pretty fragrance also makes them a good choice for cut flowers. Nasturtiums are perfect to grow with children because they grow so easily and rapidly.

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The biggest surprise with nasturtiums is the taste. In Latin nasturtium literally means “nose twist.” While most edible flowers have a subtle flavor, nasturtiums knock your socks off with their peppery taste. Plus, it’s not just the flowers and buds that are packed with a zippy flavor; the young leaves are tender and edible as well. Nasturtiums are popular with chefs and home gardeners because their colorful flowers not only dress up a plate, they’re high in vitamins A, C (10 times as much as lettuce), and D.

Although the blossoms appear delicate, they are actually very durable and make for vibrant and long-lasting garnishes, one of their best uses. Use the blossoms either whole or chopped to decorate creamy soups, salads, butters, cakes and platters. Their sweet, peppery taste (both in the leaves and in the flowers) adds to the enjoyment.

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For salads, harvest nasturtium flower buds, flowers, and young leaves in the cool of the morning when flowers have just opened. The more heat-stressed the plant, the more pungent the leaves and flowers will taste. Gently wash and dry the flowers and leaves and use immediately or store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Although you can eat the whole flower, if the flavor is too strong use only the milder-tasting petals.

You can also use nasturtiums in stir-fries, cook them with pasta, and stuff the flowers. More ambitious cooks can try grinding the seeds to use as a pepper substitute and in flavored oils, and pickling the flower buds or immature seedpods to use as a substitute for capers.

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Take advantage of this spicy flavor as well as the decorative color. Use both leaves and blossoms in salads. Try adding them to spinach salads for a dramatic effect. Nasturtium’s spiciness is also a winning addition to cheese spreads. Both the leaves and the blossoms look and taste great in tea sandwiches. For a stunning look, pair orange nasturtium blossoms with violets on open-faced cucumber sandwiches on white bread.

Make your own zesty vinegars by using the blossoms. Place same colored blossoms in a decorative bottle and cover with hot, but not boiling, white wine vinegar. You can strain out the spent blossoms after the liquid has cooled and settled for a day. Replace them with fresh blooms to make an attractive gift.

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For a tasty and sensational hors d’ouvere, stuff the blossoms. Seasoned cream cheese mixtures, egg salad or chicken salad work well, although thy must be finely chopped to be able to pipe them into the tiny throat of the flower, One of the most colorful choices for filling is guacamole – a great summertime appetizer with a chilled margarita! You can also make little appetizer packets. Wrap a blossom around a mixture of cream cheese, raisins, walnuts and orange peel for a tea time treat.

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Nasturtium buds also have their place in the kitchen. They can be pickled and used in place of capers, although I think I’d have to have a very large patch of nasturtiums before I’d sacrifice those beautifully dramatic blooms to eat the buds.

The chopped leaves also make a zesty addition to mayonnaise or vinaigrettes. As the summer sun gets hotter, so does the “pepper” in the nasturtiums. More sun and heat, the spicier the taste. So if you are looking for a milder tang, choose flowers from nasturtiums grown in shade or semi-shade.

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