The Ancient Gardener's Instructor: Dispatches from Wesley Greene
November 14, 2012A light frost has nipped the leaves of the Indian Cress, signaling the end of the season for this most beautiful of cresses. It is known to modern gardeners as Nasturtium, which is a particularly misleading name as this is more correctly applied to the common watercress, but in the interest of convivial conversation we shall allow the vernacular Nasturtium to stand. Nasturtium is a native of Peru, but as it was first exported to Europe from the West Indies, it received the name of Indian Cress. Its acceptance into English gardens was immediate both for its beauty and the utility of its spicy flowers. John Parkinson wrote in 1629, “Indian Cresses or Yellow Larkes heels is of so great beauty and sweetnesse withal, that my Garden of delight cannot bee unfurnished of it.” There are two sorts of Nasturtium. The smaller form is known to botanists as Tropaeolum Minus, and was the first form to be introduced to Europe. Its reign was short lived, however, for it was quickly replaced by the larger Tropaeolum Majus when it was introduced to English gardens shortly thereafter. This was also the most popular form of Nasturtium in Virginia. John Randolph recorded in Williamsburg, “If stuck they will climb to a very great height and will last till the frost come, and then totally perish. It is thought the flower is superior to a radish in flavour, and is eat in salads or without.” A further testament to the popularity of Nasturtium in this country and an early example of the propagation of this most inappropriate name was recorded in Philadelphia in 1806 by Bernard McMahon, “Few ornamental plants are better known or more generally cultivated than the Nasturtium.” Not only are the flowers used in salads, the seeds make an excellent, spicy pickle.
As the Nasturtium will not tolerate hot and humid weather we sow our seeds in late summer and reap the benefits of this useful and beautiful plant throughout the autumn months.
For a further explanation of all the various small salads please consult Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way, 18th Century Methods for Today’s Organic Gardeners (Rodale Press)