Nasturtium pesto
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Nasturtium Pesto

We’ve had an abnormal amount of rain in LA these past couple of months, and with all the rain came the nasturtiums. Fields of nasturtiums — all over my garden, popping up through the mulch, under the stairs, between the cracks, volunteering everywhere.

Bumper crop of nasturtiums

Most people don’t give nasturtiums a second look. They’re sometimes regarded as weeds, as they reseed easily and will grow absolutely anywhere with the least amount of maintenance. They’re often seen as ornamental annuals, blooming through early summer before the heat turns them into a scraggly mess of vines.

But historically, nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) are considered vegetables, hailing from South America and originally cultivated in Peru. The leaves and flowers contain high amounts of mustard oils, which give them a pungent, peppery flavor and are released when the plant is crushed or chewed. (The same oils are found in mustard seeds, horseradish root, and wasabi.)

Mustard oils have active antiobiotic, antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial properties, making nasturtiums a natural remedy for everything from skin infections to sinus colds. The leaves are also rich in vitamin C and iron, and anthocyanins in the red and orange flowers make them highly antioxidant. Just make a simple (yet beautiful) salad with the leaves and flowers to gain the many health benefits of this very underrated plant!

But when I end up with a bumper crop of nasturtiums, my favorite use for them is making pesto. The mustard oils in the plant add a spicy kick to this recipe not found in typical pesto, and it’s such a treat to have homegrown, homemade pesto when it’s not basil season!

Nasturtium Pesto

Makes 2 cups

Ingredients

4 cups packed nasturtium leaves
2 cups packed nasturtium flowers
1 1/2 cups olive oil
5 cloves garlic
1 to 1 1/2 cups walnuts
1 to 1 1/2 cups shredded Parmesan cheese

Method

Pick a basket full of fresh, healthy leaves and flowers without any blemishes. If your plants aren’t blooming yet, using only the leaves is fine too. Nasturtiums are highly beneficial in the garden for being natural aphid traps, so you’ll want to make sure you’re not harvesting a colony of aphids along with them!

Nasturtium leaves and flowers

Thoroughly wash and dry the leaves and flowers; tear larger leaves in half.

Nasturtium leaves

Nasturtium flowers

Add the leaves, flowers, garlic, olive oil, walnuts, and Parmesan to a blender or food processor. I like my pesto extra nutty and extra cheesy, so I use the full 1 1/2 cups for each ingredient.

Garlic, walnuts and parmesan for homemade pesto

Add all pesto ingredients to a blender

Blend all the ingredients until the mixture is smooth.

Blend all pesto ingredients until smooth

Blend all pesto ingredients until smooth

I love the bright green color!

Ladle the pesto into small jars, refrigerate, and enjoy! It should keep for up to two weeks.

Spicy nasturtium pesto

Fresh nasturtium pesto

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  • LaLa Ortiz

    I’ve always tossed these flowers and leaves into my salads. I love the sweet peppery flavor. I had no idea that they’s make a good pesto.

  • Kaitlin Barnett

    How amazing! I can’t eat dairy and don’t like cheese much, can the parmesan be replaced with something or just ommitted?

    • You can omit the cheese entirely. In essence, you’d be making a nasturtium pistou (which is just nasturtium leaves/flowers, garlic, and olive oil pounded together). The nuts are optional as well but add a nice texture in my opinion.

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  • Walktallpilates

    I made this last year, it was wonderful, and an amazing colour!
    Looks like we’ll be having huge nasturtiums again this summer so I,ll be doing it again. Thankyou! 🙂

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  • Karina

    ohhhhh, what a great idea. I love my nasturtium to keep my apple trees happy (and sometimes the chickens) but had no idea what to do with it other than eating it in salad…. brilliant!!!

    • This is one of my favorite pestos. I love the peppery flavor compared to a typical (sweeter) basil pesto. Enjoy!

    • Walktallpilates

      It is such a good idea isnt it? 🙂

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  • Isis Loran

    I had NO idea you could eat the leaves. I’ve eaten the peppery flowers before, what another exciting way to eat them this year!

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  • walktallpilates

    tried this and it was fantastic, thankyou!

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  • Nancy G

    Love this one. I also blend basil and nasturtiums and make batches for the freezer – with or without garlic and cheese. And using all varieties of nuts and seeds. It makes for a great savory breakfast muffin. Nancy

  • Rachel

    Hi Garden Betty,
    I am a school teacher from beautiful New Zealand and I just wanted to share with you that my children at school have now successfully made – and gobbled up – large quantities of nasturtium pesto from your recipie! Nastutium grow like a weed here too and we have grown them in our school vegetable garden as companion plants.I’m looking forward to pickling the pods at some stage and since we’re growing carrots we’ll be blending a carrot salsa at some stage too! Thanks for your inspiration! Rachel

  • Catherine Higgins

    excellent. I’ll be making this very soon.

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  • missy winkworth

    i just made a batch of this because my nasturtiums are overthrowing my tomatoes! after i scraped almost all of the pesto out of the blender, i threw in some of last nights leftover chicken. i am currently enjoying a chicken-pesto-lettuce-wrap… and it is delicious! thank you garden betty!

  • This sounds great! I am growing tons of Nasturtiums in among my curcurbits (cucumbers, melon, squash, etc.) because I’ve read that they will deter cucumber beetles, so I should have lots flowers and leaves to use! Thanks so much!

  • Thanks Nancy! My nasturtiums grow wild year-round, except for fall, so I’m always harvesting a different part of the plant each season depending on when they’re blooming or seeding. 🙂

  • Nancy

    I just discovered your recipe for pesto. How cool is that?? I have nasturtiums that grow wild spring to summer and always felt I wasted them! Now, I have poor mans’ capers and pesto to look forward to! Great blog…love it.
    I live in Costa Mesa, so it is fun to see someone else in CA.
    Nancy
    http://wildoakdesigns.blogspot.com

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  • Would never have thought of doing this, thank you!

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