Nasturtiums are a plant that every gardener should consider growing. Besides their beauty, nasturtiums are also edible, medicinal, and are great for companion planting in your garden. On the California coast they have naturalized, and you can often find large patches of them growing wild. I have always been amazed by this, and I wonder if people realize how many uses this plant has. Even if it doesn’t grow wild where you live, it is still very easy to grow from seed. Here is how to grow and use nasturtiums.
There are many varieties of nasturtiums, with many different colors. They usually range from almost white to yellow, orange, and red. They have distinct leaves that are fairly large and mostly round, with prominent radial veins. They remind me of lily pads in a way.
Most varieties are trailing and vine like, and are great for climbing up a trellis. Others are more compact and are better for containing in a smaller area. The wild variety is trailing and will climb up trees and steep hillsides. This is a big patch of wild nasturtiums that I found on the central California coast.
Nasturtium seeds are large and grow best if they are planted directly in the garden. They are not frost tolerant, however, so be sure to wait to plant them until all danger of frost has passed. They will do well in sun or partial shade, but do prefer some shade when in really hot climates.
They also will thrive in poor soils, so consider planting them in that spot where nothing else will grow. This is probably why they have naturalized in some areas of the country, and they will often pop up in the most unlikely of places. I found this one growing under the deck in between some tiles and blocks of wood.
Nasturtiums attract numerous beneficial insects that you want in the garden. They are also a trap plant for aphids, snails, and slugs. Plant them next to your curcubit plants (squash, cucumber, etc.) as they repel squash bugs and cucumber beetles. They have similar benefits for brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, etc.) as well.
The majority of the plant is edible, from the leaves to the flowers to the seed pods, but the seeds themselves can be toxic in large quantities. The leaves can be eaten as a fresh salad green, and have a peppery flavor similar to watercress. The flowers are also peppery, even more so than the leaves, and make a beautiful and tasty addition to salads. They are high in vitamin c, and are the highest plant source of lutein.
The fresh seed pods are also edible, and are often made into nasturtium seed “capers.” I have never tried this myself, but it sounds like a great idea to me! There is a recipe for lacto fermented nasturtium capers on the Attainable Sustainable blog that I’d love to try someday.
Nasturtiums also have medicinal properties. It is a disinfectant and wound healing herb, similar to calendula. All parts of the plant are antibiotic, antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antifungal, and can be used to make an infusion. It is also known to be good for the hair, scalp, and skin, and may be beneficial for coughs and respiratory problems.
Basically, nasturtium plants are something that you want to have around! With all their multiple benefits and uses, and considering how easy they are to grow, there’s no reason not to have them in your garden. Now is the time to start thinking about getting them planted.
Have you ever grown nasturtiums? Have you ever seen them growing wild?