By Penny Ossowski
One of my strongest childhood memories of nasturtiums is sucking nectar from the flowers. As a child we would pick the flowers and most importantly check there were no bees in the flower, then bite/break the tip of the spur off and suck the nectar out of the flower through the spur. A tiny drop of delicious nectar.
At this time of year nasturtiums are coming up everywhere in my garden, the seeds have remained dormant since last year awaiting the start of the cooler weather to burst into life. The young seedlings are easy to remove and send to the compost bin or a salad or a pot of soup, I have just way too many of them to keep them all. My only concern is that I won't end up with the variety of colours I had last year.
The nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus, is native to Peru but is found in many countries around the world. It is also known as Indian cress. The nasturtium got its common name because it produces an oil similar to watercress (Nasturtium officinale). This flower adds many shades of red, orange, yellow to your garden from autumn through to late spring. These annuals come in the long wandering varieties for around the garden and climbing over bushes and frames and in bushier types for pots and smaller places.
Nasturtiums grow best in well drained soil and full sun but will grow in most soil types and tolerate some shade. Plant seeds 1 - 2 cm deep from early autumn where you want them to grow. When they reach maturity and start flowering, picking flowers will encourage more flowering but leave a lot of flowers for the bees to enjoy and to leave some seeds for next year.
Some important points about nasturtiums
- · great for cut flowers
- · makes a delicious pesto
- · immature seed pods can be used to make capers
- · flowers and leaves add texture, flavour and colour to salads
- · in ancient times the leaves were eaten to prevent scurvy and made into a tea as a hair tonic
- · attract bees and other beneficial insects to your garden
- · make a colourful live mulch wherever there is space in the garden
- · help keep the soil moist
- · deters weeds from growing
- · said to deter the cabbage moth, white flies and cucumber beetle
- · attracts aphids away from other plants
- · are good companions and insect repellents for broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, potatoes, radishes, tomatoes, zucchini
- · very good for growing as a mulch and insect repellent under fruit trees
- · Isabell Shiphard said "the leaves can be infused in boiling water, cooled, strained and with a little liquid soap added, used as a spray for aphids"
- · medicinally the leaves are said to prevent and treat colds and flu, some other viruses and measles by helping build the immune system
- · according to Isabell Shipard the leaves are effective against some micro organisms that are resistant to common antibiotics the leaves contain a chemical called tromalyt, which acts as a natural antibiotic in the body
- · nutritionally nasturtium leaves are high in vitamin C, A and D and have good amounts of iron, sulphur, potassium, calcium and magnesium
All parts of nasturtiums are edible
Leaves are a bit peppery, the older the leaf the stronger the flavour. Good for sandwiches, salads, soups, stews, stir fries, mixed through pasta and rice, flavouring for vinegar, juices and teas
Flowers can be used for floral arrangements, salads, garnishes and for flavouring butters and oils
Seed pods when immature can be pickled like capers or used in salads and mature ones kept to plant next season or roasted and ground up to use as seasoning like pepper. Don't eat large quantities of green seeds as they are high in oxalic acid.
Some varieties of nasturtium include
Nasturtium 'Blue Pepe' has been bred as a culinary leaf and flower variety with the leaves staying small.
Nasturtium 'Jewel Mixed' 'Jewel Mix' has sweetly scented flowers in yellow, orange, salmon and deep red that bloom for a long period. High in vitamin C. Use flowers and leaves in salad, non trailing bush type to 40cm.
Nasturtium 'Empress of India' a Victorian heirloom flower with vibrant, long spurred, crimson-scarlet flowers that stand out against the dark blue-green foliage. Plants are compact and suitable for containers and hanging baskets
Alaska Mix Flowers range in colour orange through to red also yellow, lightly variegated foliage, non trailing compact bush.
Cherry Rose bright cherry rose flowers, born on top of semi-dwarf non trailing bush variety.
Jewel Of Africa Mixed tall plant, single flowers with variegated leaves.
Whirlybird Mix bright range of colours bears flowers on top of plant, a non trailing bush type.
Nasturtiums are easy to grow and low maintenance, do well in poor soil and manage without a regular supply of water.
Forget about getting children to grow radishes because they grow quickly. Instead give children nasturtium seeds, they grow quickly, have few or no predators, don't mind being forgotten from time to time and make lovely bunches of flowers. Leaves make quirky umbrellas and all parts (flowers, leaves and seeds) can be part of nutritious meals.
Look online for Nasturtium seed to buy from Eden Seeds.
2 cups nasturtium leaves ½ cup thinly sliced nasturtium stems 4 cloves garlic
½ cup toasted pine nuts (or other nuts) ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese 1 cup olive oil
Bring a large pot of water to a boil; prepare an ice-water bath and set aside. Add nasturtium leaves to boiling water; cook for 10 seconds. Drain and transfer to ice-water bath until cool. Drain and set aside.
Place leaves, pine nuts, garlic, and oil in the jar of a blender; blend until smooth. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl and fold in stems and cheese.