Whatever the hue, nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) add a bright splash of colour to your garden, your salad, sandwich or as a garnish!
That’s right, the leaves and flowers of these colourful annuals are edible. They have a peppery taste that may, at first, not be obvious. Younger leaves are tastier and have a softer texture than older leaves; and the leaves are milder in taste than the flowers.
Even the seeds of nasturtium are edible. In fact, young green seeds can be preserved in vinegar and used as ‘poor man’s capers’ or roasted and ground as a pepper substitute.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF NASTURTIUMS
All of the nasturtiums pictured above are the ‘trailing’ type. In our garden, they are allowed to sprawl over garden beds or the edges of pathways; we even encourage them to climb any vertical structure they can find. We have one growing in a camellia that has finished flowering and another growing up a trellised tomato.
There is another type of nasturtium which doesn’t require as much space, a clumping variety with variegated, marble-patterned leaves. This variety is called ‘Alaska’. The flowers of this type also come in a variety of colours. The leaves, flowers and seeds are edible.
Nasturtium ‘Peaches and Cream’ is a great variety for those who prefer softer, more pastel tones in their garden.
HOW AND WHERE TO GROW NASTURTIUMS
Sow nasturtium seeds directly where you want them to grow, whether that’s in the garden or in a pot. In our garden, they seed freely, year after year, and we never have to replant them. Nasturtiums actually prefer poor soil, and flower more abundantly than they would in good quality soil, so that, and the size of their seeds, makes them great for a beginner gardener or seed grower.
They will grow in full sun or part shade – in our western Sydney location, morning sun and afternoon shade is ideal.
Soak the seed overnight in lukewarm water with a drop of seaweed extract added. This is optional so don’t worry if you don’t have any. The temperature of the water isn’t critical either, as long as it’s not hot: it should feel cool on your wrist! The water will cool overnight and that’s okay.
Sow the seed in Spring into moist soil, 15mm deep, and keep moist but not saturated. Don’t forget to pop in a label that says what you planted – trust me, you will not remember! You can make labels from milk bottles or from yoghurt containers. Use a soft pencil (2B-6B) – permanent markers are not permanent in the garden! Or you can scribe the details into a label made from an aluminium drink can.
In the right conditions, the seed should germinate (shoots will appear above the ground) in about 7-14 days. You can expect flowers about three months from sowing the seed.
Some seed packets may say you can sow in autumn but nasturtiums are frost-tender so, if you get frost, please sow by the end of January.
Aphids love nasturtiums but don’t be alarmed. Squish a few with your fingers, if you can handle it, and wait – the lady bugs are bound to turn up. Their young find the taste of aphids delectable! Planted in or near your vegetable garden, nasturtiums may attract aphids away from your food crops.
Nasturtiums are also attractive to other beneficial insects, like pollinators.
FINAL FUN FACT
The spicy plant we commonly call ‘watercress’ is a variety of nasturtium.
DISCLAIMER: The information given here is for entertainment and/or gardening purposes only. Please do further research if you are unfamiliar with this plant. If you have never eaten it before, try a small piece of leaf and wait a few hours before eating more.