They’re a bit of an unruly guest – once they get comfortable, nasturtiums will spread everywhere, not even thinking of their neighbors, but they bring such joy, beauty, and other values to the garden, I forgive them a lot.
One of the easiest plants to grow, Nasturtium adds bright color with its orange, yellow and red blooms that bloom freely and profusely until the end of the year frost puts an end to their fun.
It is an annual plant, but at the same time a plant for life.
What I mean by that is that each plant is itself an annual and completes its life cycle in a year, but once you’ve planted just one, as anyone who has done this will attest, you’ll have small nasturtium seedlings that are good for always show up.
I remember sowing them once as a small child and waiting in the years that followed to see how many different colored shapes would emerge.
It is a valuable plant and a good one to start with children as the younger and more distractible among us do not have time to forget about them and lose interest as they germinate and grow very quickly.
Nasturtiums like as much sun as possible, which shouldn’t come as a surprise as they are native to South America and prefer poor soil.
Good, nutrient-rich soil with lots of organic matter and plant food will result in lots of leaves but not as many buds. Like many annuals, and especially wildflowers, nasturtiums want the opposite.
With such a fun and light-hearted plant, it might be hard to believe that it can play such an important role.
All parts of the plant are edible, and the leaves and flowers are often used in salads. I like my food with a kick, but I have to say that I find the taste of nasturtium very strong and not to everyone’s liking.
I’ve never been brave enough to try the seed pods as I’ve been told they are the most flavorful part of the plant. So if the leaves and flowers burn your mouth, maybe try salting the seed pods instead.
Don’t wait for the seeds to ripen, collect them and pickle them while they’re still green, a great alternative to capers I’m reliably informed.
While the leaves are very peppery, tossing them in with some cheese or other, milder lettuce leaves will dilute the flavor, and a good bite of nasturtium leaves will benefit your health as they are high in vitamin C and the compounds they contain have powerful antimicrobial and antifungal properties Properties, hence the recommendation of nasturtium oil as good for preventing sore throats, coughs and colds.
It’s not just the leaves that have health benefits, the flowers, seeds, and leaves provide countless herbal remedies that are said to cure all, including the aforementioned sore throats, cuts, and abrasions due to their antiseptic properties, and fungal nail infections.
As with all herbal remedies, I would strongly advise seeking proper advice from a medical herbalist or doctor prior to treatment. Anything that powerful and effective needs to be handled properly and the leaves used on the skin to treat cuts can cause skin irritation and burns so use caution.
As if beautiful flowers, leaves that catch water with such beauty, and a plethora of health benefits weren’t enough, the nasturtium fills another extremely valuable role in the garden. That of a companion plant.
Before gardeners were told to rely on chemicals and pesticides for best results in our gardens, companion planting was the number one tool in protecting plants and crops.
As far as companions go, few can beat the humble nasturtium.
Plant it near others that might be susceptible to whitefly and other aphids, because the leaves’ essential oils will deter aphids and other pests, and the flowers will attract hoverflies, which feed on, you guessed it, aphids . Just be careful not to plant it too close lest it overwhelms anything growing nearby.
It is often grown as a sacrificial plant, i.e. as a control plant.
Growing near brassicas like collards and broccoli will attract cabbage white caterpillars, who enjoy little more than a feast of nasturtium leaves, drawing them away from the valuable vegetables you want to protect. What more can a companion do if he doesn’t give his life entirely, but then surely takes the blow for his friends.