Bright orange, edible nasturtium flowers

One of the most cheerful plants in my garden at present are the nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus). The bright yellow, orange and red flowers are jewel-like highlights, scattered around the garden, in odd spots, tumbling over other plants. Nasturtiums grow easily from seed sown where they are to grow and once established they will grow, flower and set seed for months. Intense heat, or later cold and frost kill them off but in my garden they reappear every spring, colonizing waste spaces and protecting soil until I am ready to pull them out and plant something else. The only work involved in looking after them is to keep them under control. Any plants that you don’t want are simply pulled out and added to the compost where they rapidly break down.

'Empress of India' nasturtium has darker leaves and deep red flowers

Bright orange, red and yellow nasturtium flowers

Pack a wide-mouthed jar full of nasturtium flowers

After straining out the flowers you are left with a lovely deep red vinegar

All parts of the plants are edible, with a hot peppery taste, but my favourites are the flowers. They have a delightful mild peppery flavour and look fabulous in salads. Earwigs love to hide in the back of the flowers, so knock them gently on a bench before eating or adding to a salad or you may end up with more protein than you expected. Leaves are much hotter and can be added sparingly to salads but also look great when spread over a plate with savories on top. Green seeds can be pickled and taste like capers.

When I have lots of flowers I always make Nasturtium Flower Vinegar. Find a wide mouthed jar and fill with nasturtium flowers, cover with a good white wine vinegar and leave to stand on a sunny windowsill for a week or so. The colour and flavour of the flowers is absorbed into the vinegar. Strain through a sieve and discard the flowers. Pour into a bottle and seal. I combine this vinegar with good olive oil to make a simple salad dressing, but it is also delicious in marinades and sauces, and poured into decorative bottles makes a colourful gift.