A Field Guide to Nasturtiums

A Field Guide to Nasturtiums

What’s That Flower Doing In There?

The first time I encountered nasturtium was in a gormet salad mix from a local grower when we lived in Minnesota. I thought the flowers were a nice garnish, and they made the salad beautifiul…then I ate one. It bit unexpectedly like a radish! This peppery beauty quickly became a favorite.Fast forward about fifteen years, and Debbie comes up with a recipe for sampling at the farmers market: carrot and dill salad garnished with nasturtium. It was delicious, and the pleasant bite of nasturtium took more unsuspecting samplers by surprise.

A Field Guide to Nasturtiums

New World Origin

Originally found in what are now Mexico and Peru, nasturtiums were grown and used by the native people of those areas throughout ancient times. When the Europeans discovered these beauties, they quickly adopted them and spread the seed throughout the Old World. Nasturtiums are now considered old fashioned cottage garden flowers.

A Field Guide to Nasturtiums

Nasturtium In The Garden

As familiar as they may  be in flowering borders, many gardeners have found that they fit well into vegetable and herb gardens as well. Their bright red, orange and yellow blooms are perfect aesthetic and functional companions for cabbage, cucumbers and summer squash, looking great while helping to attract pollinators and other beneficial insects. They attract hoverflies, which then feast on aphids, and so can help reduce garden losses to insect damage.

A Field Guide to Nasturtiums

Planting

The large seeds (slightly smaller than a pea) germinate readily, making the planting of these warm weather annuals a snap. Start them in early spring, either indoors or directly in the garden. Nasturtiums thrive in any sunny, moist/well drained garden setting. Poor soil is fine, as long as it’s well drained. There is no need to fertilize heavily. Once grown, they tend to self seed in succeeding years. There are several growth habits to choose from: dwarf, trailing /vining or “regular” bushy types. Their blooms may be single or double and range from creamy white to yellow, orange, red and maroon.

A Field Guide to Nasturtiums

Nasturtiums In The Kitchen

All parts of the plant are edible: foliage, flowers and seeds. In addition to the colorful, peppery garnish provided by the flowers, the leaves may be added to salads for a similar, but milder effect. The unripe seeds may be placed in a jar of vinegar for three days and then used in the same way as capers. Nasturtium is high in vitamin C and has antibiotic properties. Try it at the onset of a cold for fast relief.

A Field Guide to Nasturtiums
Nasturtium seeds

With their many benefits, both horticultural and culinary, nasturtiums are well worth growing. They’re so easy, there’s no reason not to.

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