Friday, March 12, 2010

The Plant That Gets Your Nose Out of Joint

Consider the nasturtium, the hardy flower that you’ve doubtlessly seen growing in gardens or, really, roadsides or vacant lots or anywhere else its seeds happen to fall.

nasturtium

It’s probably a weed to many picky gardeners, but it should be said that it’s an edible weed. You can serve the flowers and leaves in salads. Their peppery taste makes them especially assertive greens — loudmouthed even. And it’s that quality that may have given the flower its name. According the Online Etymology Dictionary, it’s believed that the strong taste and smell gave rise to the Latin nasitortium, “nose twist” or “nose tweak,” from nasus, “nose,” and a form of torquere, “to twist.” Which is funny. I imagine the nasal twisting isn’t so much literal as it is simply the sniffer-scrunching that happens when stink particles enter the nostrils.

One small problem, though: The plant I’m talking about originated in South and Central America, so Pliny’s explanation for the Latin name didn’t apply to this particular plant until 1704. The original nose-twister and the rightful owner of the name nasturtium is a form of watercress. As far as I know, this plant isn’t as widely grown and therefore has every reason to resent this knock-off nasturtium that stole its name.

Edible etymology, previously:

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