Rachel Lambert: forager, author, guide
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A single nasturtium seed on a plant

Pickled nasturtium (Tropaeolum) seeds can make an excellent replacement for capers (which come from a different plant). This recipe is simple, quick and effective as they taste just as good as capers! Here I pick them from my wild town garden where they arrived as weeds and I've been loving their colour and flavour ever since.

Nasturiums are such a giving plant; they grow easily in the sun, partial shade or complete shade (though they may get stressed in a very hot summer in full sun). They are also easy to cultivate and grow best in dry soil. They are trailing, climbing plants, which with the right opportunity will climb upwards or fill large patches of ground.

Bowl of nasturtium seeds and flowers

Are nasturtiums really a wild food?

Native to South America, but were brought to Europe in the 1500s and have since naturalised in many areas. I know them both as a cultivated, garden plant and a profuse, common weed.

There are over 80 species of nasturtiums, some annual, some perennial. Luckily, nasturtiums produce a lot of seeds which mean they keep coming back (even if they are annuals) AND there can still be enough seeds to produce these capers.

Which part of nasturtiums are edible?

All parts of nasturtiums (pronounced na-stir-tchums) are edible. Their name literally means nose twister or nose tweaker, because of their peppery kick. The flowers are sweet and the leaves, flowers and seeds all have that spicy flavour. I love adding the flowers into salads, the leaves into pesto and pickling the seeds to make these fake capers - though they taste just as good!

I love their beautiful, colour flowers to look at, smell and eat! They can start to flower in spring and early summer.

Are nasturtiums good for you to eat?

Nasturtiums contain a good amount of vitamin C and high amounts of lutein derived from carotenoids, which may be beneficial for eye health (1). Eating a varied diet full of greens, orange, yellow and a range of colours is generally considered good for your health too (2).

Nasturtium Capers (Pickled seeds) Recipe

Makes 1 jar

Ingredients

  • 300 g/1 cup nasturtium seeds
  • 80 ml/1/3 cup vinegar*
  • 80 ml/1/3 cup water
  • Large pinch of sea salt
  • Large pinch sugar
  • 2 tsp chopped herbs (of your choice) - optional

Wash the seeds and place in a pickling jar. In a small saucepan heat up the vinegar, water, salt and sugar to boiling. Pour over the seeds. Add the herbs if using and stir in to submerge. Screw on the lid and leave for 2 weeks before using.

How to pickled nasturtium seeds compare to capers?

Capers are from the caper bush (Capparis spinosa or Capparis inermis) from the Mediterranean and parts of Asia. they also have both wild and cultivated cousins. Of course pickled nasturtium seeds are different, but they're a pretty good replacement! Call these fake capers if you wish, or just pickled nasturtium seeds.

Jar of pickled nasturtium seeds
(Freshly pickled, these need to be left for at least 2 weeks to mature)

References

Forager Rachel Lambert lives in Penzance town

People often assume I live in the countryside with a beautiful garden, which isn't entirely true. Yes, I do live in Cornwall, 3 minutes walk from the sea, though I also live in Penzance town and have a small Cornish backyard rather than a garden. Myth broken!

I love my town house and from the moment I moved in I started carting unwanted soil from my friend's garden down to my yard. Up and down with a wheelbarrow, I carted about 20 bags of soil to fill a greatly prized wooden box. I loved having my hands in that soil, getting dirty, tired and slowly filling my 1 m x 1 m box, first with stones and gravel then with soil. My garden was born!

Forager Rachel Lambert's small box garden

How this forager grows weeds

The second thing that people often assume about me is that I am a good gardener. I am not. I am a forager, someone who is in awe of nature and benefits from her intelligent, natural growing techniques by plucking what grows wild and free in abundance. My gardening follows a similar style, or you could say that I am a lazy gardener. When my foraged soil was firmly in its new home I started to research plants that were good for wildlife as well as think about my favourite edible weeds and a little about beauty too. Beauty can be the glue that holds a functional garden together.

I was also given several plants. My preliminary box garden looked something like this;

  • Dog violets (locally grown)
  • Sweet woodruff (does well in the shade)
  • Nettles (arrived naturally)
  • Dead nettles
  • Wood sorrel (arrived naturally)
  • Various mints (curiously they disappeared within a year)
  • Cowslips (these almost disappeared in Britain in the past so good to plant them)
  • Primroses (locally grown, I love these)
  • Blackcurrant (grown locally)
  • Nasturtiums (arrived naturally)
  • Montbretia (arrived naturally)

Within a year my garden self-selected what was staying and what was going. The mint disappeared, the violets were adored and eaten by slugs (rather quickly), the blackcurrant struggled, the woodruff got frost bite and where on earth did my dead nettles go?! Meanwhile, my stinging nettles, nasturiums, primroses, wood sorrel and montbretia flourished! And so my naturalised garden was born.

Since then my blackcurrant has produced about 10 fruits (hurray!) and I have added a honeysuckle to the gang. Somehow a healthy dandelion and alexanders have crept in too - all welcome, oh, and I've slipped in a locally grown wild garlic in the shady, back corner.

Nasturium flowers   Nasturtium microphyllum and Nasturtium officinale

Loving a wild garden

I love a wild garden for many reasons, it is a lazy gardener's way - I rarely weed, instead I just allow my garden to evolve. Sometimes I grieve the loss of plants that didn't make it - I tried planting local violets twice though the slugs were just too keen. Luckily there are some successes too, right now I'm celebrating the evening scent of honeysuckle as I come through my gate into my yard.

Cultivating wild spaces is something which is close to my heart. In the UK, and world over, as our wild spaces shrink it is good to put something back and provide opportunities for 'weeds' and wild flowers to freely roam and take root. I gain small pleasures from, eventually (having plucked a few tops first for myself, for soup, cake, pakoras, or syrup) letting my stinging nettles go to flower and letting the bees and butterflies benefit. Well, that is if one or two pass-by. Butterflies numbers have drastically plummeted in the last 40 years, with 76% species in decline. As we know, bees are struggling too, and one cause is said to be loss of habitats for them to forage. Planting or allowing wild flowers to flourish, as well as avoiding the use of pesticides and insecticides in our gardens, can potentially help the bees and butterflies along.

As a forager I take care in the amount I take from the 'wild', though I do take. The opportunity to convert my bare yard into a small growing plot is my token effort to give back, and yet, my garden still gives me so much more than I give it. Time for a salad of nasturtium leaves and flowers, dandelion leaves and a little wild garlic I think, courtesy of my wild back yard garden.

Trailing plants in my garden

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