How to Grow and Use Nasturtiums
By Brenda HydeNasturtium plants were discovered in the jungles of Peru and Mexico in the 16th century. I can’t say enough about them–they are easy to grow, edible, cheerful and they are great companion plants as well! Nasturtiums help deter aphids, whiteflies, squash bugs, cucumber beetles and other pests. Plant them with tomatoes, radishes, cabbage, cucumbers, and under fruit trees. They come in vibrant colors, or muted tones-variegated leaves or plain-and some are fairly dwarfed while others can be used as a vine, climbing five foot or more!
The first time I read about growing nasturtiums the writer did not seem overly enthused about them, except as a flower that would lure the aphids away from other plants. While this is true, I have come to love nasturtiums for so many other reasons. They are a bright and cheerful flower that can be grown in containers, the vegetable garden or flower beds.
Nasturtiums grow quickly from seed and one packet is plenty. I’ve found most packets have about 25 seeds. Space your seeds 8-12 inches apart in the ground, and a little closer in containers. In zones with freezing temperatures wait until after the frost, and in the mild southern climates they can even be planted in the fall for “winter” blooming. I’ve found the trick with nasturtiums is to keep them watered during the entire growing season. Especially when they are in containers. They love full sun, but they don’t do well in drought-like conditions. As long as you keep them watered and give them room for the air to circulate they are a prolific flower. The soil shouldn’t be too rich because you will get more leaves than flowers. The soil can even be slightly sandy and they will thrive. You can use barrel planters, window boxes or porch boxes too. Pick the blooms freely once they start coming, and you will have many more during the summer. I water mine oncein awhile with the water from our fish tank, to give them a little boost. If you do notice aphids you can spray them with a safe soap, alcohol and water mixture. Remember, as with herbs, you don’t want to use chemicals on your plants.
Why do I consider nasturtiums an herb? Because the entire plant is edible! This peppery plant is perfect for salads, herb vinegars, appetizers and garnishes. Try mixing assorted greens such as romaine, radicchio, spinach and arugula with a handful of nasturtium blooms topped with your favorite dressing. Bake a batch of spice cupcakes, frostwith a cream cheese frosting and top with a single nasturtium bloom for a luncheon treat.
Nasturtium vinegar is wonderful as well. Add several blossoms and some leaves to a jar with a clove of garlic. Fill with vinegar and allow to sit for 4-5 weeks. I also like adding it to other herb vinegar combinations for a nice peppery addition and it colors the vinegar a lovely shade.
It’s important to keep your nasturtiums free from any exposure to chemicals. They do trail and spread, and so be aware of this if anything nearby is treated. I think of them as a flowering spicy green, and grow them as such. The leaves and blooms can be added to any salad, used as garnish, or chopped into pasta salads.
The seeds were ground during World War II as a replacement for pepper and you can still do this. Wait for the seeds to dry-they are larger than peppercorns-and grind them in a grinder. You can add this mixture with herbs to make a savory herb salt as well. Store in tightly closed bottles.
The fresh seeds can be pickled as a type of substitution for capers, which are fairly expensive. After the blossoms wilt and form seed pods, pick the greenish pods off the plant for this recipe:
1 quart white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons pickling salt
1 thinly sliced onion
1/2 teaspoon each allspice, mace and celery seed
nasturtium seed pods
Keep the solution refrigerated in a sealed bottle and drop the seed pods into it as they are ready. Keep them refrigerated and later use in place of capers.
About the author:
Brenda Hyde is an avid gardener, freelance writer, mom and wife. She is owner and editor of Old Fashioned Living.com.
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