Last fall, I was driving down a secluded canyon road in Malibu, California, when I spotted a vine full of lily pad-shaped leaves and the occasional orange flower crawling over a fallen tree just next to the road.
After stopping and getting out to inspect a little further, I saw this tree that was covered in what I thought was nasturtium, an edible vine of peppery leaves and bright flowers. And even better, since it was nearly winter, the vines had begun to die down for the season and only the saddest of its leaves, little shriveled flowers, and seed pods remained partially withered on the plant.
To be sure, I grabbed a leaf and a flower and put them in my mouth. When I wasn’t dead five hours later, I began counting down the days until summer.
Nasturtium is the lazy forager’s dream plant. If you’re looking for it, you can find it growing all over the West Coast: on the roadside, near river banks, and maybe even in your neighbor’s garden.
Beginning to bloom in late spring and early summer, nasturtium’s brightly colored orange, yellow, or red flowers (depending on the varietal) and circular, velvety leaves, are the marker of the start of Los Angeles’s summer and begin appearing on menus shortly thereafter. With a peppery, clean vegetal taste—something between watercress and arugula—nasturtium is a versatile plant whose leaves, flowers, and seed pods can be eaten raw, cooked, and prepared every other way in between.