Friday, May 14, 2010

Perfume Illuminated: Nasturtiums

The nasturtiums along the south side slope of our yard are finally returning with vigor. A few years back when the other neighbors lived there they decided to replace the fence and in the process the brutes pushed loads of dirt and stomped the nasturtiums and Santa Barbara daisies to death. Steadily, despite the gophers, both sweet flowers are once again gracing the slope with their magnificence.

The first nasturtiums I planted were when Eve was a tiny infant at the Encino house. I decided to create a medicinal and culinary garden in the back yard. A book suggested planting nasturtiums for children because they have nice big seed pods for tiny hands and the child is able to quickly see the results. In the garden I had planted flowers amongst the herbs and vegetables. Later I learned that Nasturtiums make good companion plants because they attract beneficial insects while repeling unwanted visitors.

Nasturtiums, or as my friend Rebecca once referred to them "Nasty Urtiums", are easy to grow adding beauty to the garden and a peppery quality to meals. The genus tropaeolum is native to South America, like me. First cultivated in the Andes of Peru the plant was referred to as Indian cress by the Europeans and later deemed Tropaeolum majus. The original flowers were yellow in color, although now they exist in a splendid variety.

A relative of the nasturtium flower is watercress which goes by the botanical name Nasturtium officinalis, sometimes causing confusion. The Latin root of the word nasturtium may have come from nsus/nasus meaning nose and tortre/tortus referring to torture or twist. This term "twist of the nose" refers to the expression on the face of the individual tasting the spicy edible.

This gleeful climber or bush with it's bright trumpet flowers is the topic of Perfume Illuminated today.


The peppery taste of Nasturtiums is partly due to the amount of sun and heat the plant is exposed to. In varying shades of yellow to red, the little trumpet flowers and the disc like leaves act as solar panels absorbing the suns thermal energy. The result of this intake is the chemical component glucosinolates, which are also present in mustard oil.

When one stands amidst nasturtiums the aroma is a blend of green, fresh floral notes with a a bit of pepper. If you poke your nose into the flower the primary note is floral followed by a bit of musk, green and spice. The aroma of the leaves and stems has the same pungent quality with the floral component removed.

The little sample of Nasturtium absolute I was gifted by a distiller has none of the fresh green floral notes. The essence is a yellow mustard color and slightly viscous. The fragrance when first inhaled is slightly irritating to the eyes and nose with an extremely strong burnt, spicy vegetal musk. To my nose it reminds me of the smell of a Japanese restaurant when you first walk in the door. Where I perceived fresh green patchouli, galbanum and pepper notes in the musk of the green leaves, the musk component of the essence is as if it is weighted down by garlic. None of the luminescence of the plant appears in this absolute. Perhaps diluting the material would render a less pungent aroma.

Years ago when I first attempted a nasturtium perfume I tinctured the flowers. Regrettably the fresh, green floral notes were not harnessed. Perhaps it requires the daily swapping and replacement of flowers like a violet tincture, definitely worth a go.


Nasturtium Tincture

1/2 cup of leaves and or flowers, if you are using flowers remove the reproductive portion.
1 cup of perfumers alcohol or a high alcohol content brandy or vodka
Clean glass container with a tight fitting lid.

Begin by placing clean, dry, plant matter, the prima materia, inside the jar then proceed to cover with your alcohol. Make sure that all the plant matter is completely covered by the liquid to avoid challenges with mold. Steep your prima materia shaking daily if possible. After four to six weeks strain the material and use this as the base for a Nasturtium liquid perfume.


Nasturtium Vinegar from Herbal Gardens

1 cup nasturtium leaves, flowers, and buds
1 pint champagne or white wine vinegar

Place the ingredients in a clean clear glass jar or bottle. Tightly seal. Let sit for at least 3 weeks before using. Place a new nasturtium in the finished bottle for decoration, but you should make sure the vinegar always covers the flowers or they will mold. Makes 1 pint vinegar to use in salads, sauces and flavoring in other dishes.


Another route is to recreate the aroma with single notes and accords. Begin as I have suggested in previous posts, by experiencing the aroma and energetics of the plant first hand. Have faith in your scent perceptions even if they differ from others, including authorities in the industry. Pay attention to what the impressions of others are keeping your own in mind.

As mentioned above the main notes I perceived were floral, spicy, green and musk. When I create the nasturtium perfume I will begin by making a tincture as mentioned above and then creating four accords for each of the main notes: floral, green, musk and spice. The floral aspect is more like Mimosa than Ylang Ylang, Jasmine or Rose, thus consider using a Mimosa accord. For the Green accord I suggest essences like Violet leaf and Galbanum among others. The Dandelion accord is a definite candidate. The main spice note is in the realm of Pepper with Ginger and a heavily diluted Garlic essential oil. Be mindful if you are going to use garlic, the essential oil is one of the strongest on the planet, no kidding! Patchouli the ideal place to begin for the musk component.

FLAVOR: Beth Schreibman Gehring
Please continue reading about Nasturtiums at the Windesphere Witch blog

IMAGES: Opening Nasturtium and Nasturtium photo postcard ©RoxanaVilla, Nose and Mouth are old engravings that I have cleaned up and modified.

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