A favourite in the ornamental garden, nasturtiums also have a host of culinary and ornamental uses.
On seed shelves, you’ll come across nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) with variety names such as ‘Scarlet Jewel’ and ‘Golden Jewel’, amongst others. And when you see these plants flowering, it’s easy to see why the words ‘gem’ and ‘jewel’ feature so prominently in the variety names – this colourful annual adds pops of the most heavenly colours in the garden.
Flowers are often only touted for their beauty in colour and smell, but nasturtiums bring so much more to the table – specifically your dinner table. While Michelin-star chefs across the world toss nasturtiums into their salads and wedding planners use them to embellish cakes, the average person utters – ‘you can eat flowers?’ Indeed you can, and if you haven’t started yet you are missing out.
How To Grow Nasturtiums
This delightful plant, with different varieties from climbing to dwarf, bushy hybrids available, is very easy to grow. Sow the seed into trays, in a container filled with potting medium or directly into the ground in the warmer months. The climbing varieties should be spaced at least 25cm apart. Water them well until the seed germinates and the leaves start to develop, and then reduce watering to once a week or, if it rains fairly regularly, leave them to the elements. They should begin to flower between 8 and 12 weeks from germination.
While the climbing variety is regarded as invasive in some regions, it is very easy to keep under control.
Nasturtiums require a mostly sunny position but will tolerate some shade, either early morning or late afternoon. The climbing variety in particular will lean towards the sun, so the plant should be staked and kept in check by reducing its trailing stems periodically, while the dwarf varieties will be content if you pinch any dead flowers out from time to time. They shouldn’t be given overly rich soil or feeding, or they tend to produce more foliage and fewer flowers.
These happy plants can be incorporated into a vegetable garden or allowed to mingle with your other summer-flowering plants in a country or cottage-garden setting. Their rich tones of golden-yellow, orange, cherry-red and scarlet are just gorgeous. You can also find them in softer pastel tones such as apricot-orange, soft-salmon and buttercup-yellow.
Healing properties of the nasturtium
All parts of the nasturtium above the ground are edible, with a peppery taste that is not unpleasant. While the flowers and young seedpods are used in salads and condiments, the leaves are known for their antiseptic properties and are mostly eaten to stave off the start of a sore throat and in cases of mild bronchitis.
The leaves can also be bound onto a wound to help fight infection, while the seeds can be ground into a paste and painted onto the toenails to help fight fungal infections.
Nasturtium tea is a favourite for treating mild infections and is made by steeping a few leaves, flowers, and buds in boiling water for around 15 minutes, and then drinking. The tea can also be cooled and used as a spray to deter bugs on plants.
Nasturtiums contain alkaloids that are similar to those found in mustard and watercress. For this reason, bugs find them far more palatable that cabbage or broccoli leaves, which is why they are recommended as good companion plants amongst your leafy vegetables. The only downside is that the broad, flat leaves are a wonderful place for slugs to hang out, so turn those leaves over from time to time and see what could be hiding there.
READ MORE: Find more companion planting combos here
Nasturtiums should be picked during the cooler part of the day and after a good watering, to reduce the peppery taste of the plant. Always check all parts of the plant for unwanted bugs before using them in food preparation.
Flowers and leaves: Nasturtium butter is so tasty: chop up about 10 young nasturtium flowers and 3 – 6 leaves (all without the stalk). Use a sharp knife so that they are not bruised and pulverised. Incorporate the chopped leaves and flowers into slightly softened butter, salted or unsalted, and add the zest of one lemon. Lay the butter on a sheet of greaseproof paper and roll it into a sausage-shape. Place in the refrigerator to harden and cut into slices when needed.
Seeds: The seeds of nasturtiums are known as the ‘poor man’s caper’ and are a little more peppery in flavour. They can be stored in brine and used in salads, sauces, mayonnaise and pasta dishes.