Tips for Growing Nasturtiums
Have you heard the saying: “Be nasty to nasturtiums“? There seems to be some truth to this because these low-maintenance carefree herbs thrive in a poor, dry soil without a lot of water – or work … making them a plant of choice for many thrifty and busy gardeners!
- Choose a dwarf variety for micro garden spaces, climbers with longer vines for vertical gardens or variegated leaf varieties;
- Sow seeds in spring and summer if you get frost but if you live in a warm-hot climate, plant them anytime;
- Sow the seed to a depth of twice the length of the seed (about 1.5cm or 1/2 an inch) as they need darkness to germinate;
- Keep moist so the seeds germinate and once established, you’ll likely find they don’t require much water – perfect for those with water restrictions or limited rainfall;
- They can take heat and drought but not frost and from my observations, they don’t like strong winds either;
- Grow very well in poor, dry soils so plant nasturtiums where other flowers and vegetables would be unsuccessful;
- Aren’t fussy about sun or semi-shade – do well in both;
- Can be trained to grow vertically or cascade down from hanging baskets and other containers depending on the cultivar;
- If you don’t pick all the flowers, they will self-seed profusely and provide you with loads of free plants;
- Require very little care – if you have sufficient rainfall in the warmer months, you may not have to water at all;
Culinary & Medicinal Uses for Nasturtiums
Ways to use the different parts of the nasturtium plant in your kitchen
1. Leaves: The most familiar and commonly used part of the plant.
- Best when picked young and tender, in cool weather. The older the leaves are, the spicier the flavour.
- Leaves can be stuffed with tuna or chicken salad, then rolled up as an entrée or snack.
- Use in risottos, soups, juices, casseroles, pesto and rice dishes.
- Stuff and bake them as you would grape leaves. Try a mixture of rice, currants, nuts and savoury spices like cinnamon, mint and cloves.
- Make vinegar using the leaves, buds and blossoms and a bottle of white wine or champagne vinegar.
- Try them stir fried, wilted with other greens or mince and add to chilled summer soups.
- Chop or slice leaves into small pieces and use them instead of green onions or garlic.
- Grind or mince the chopped leaves with salt, chillies and garlic until they form a paste. Use to flavour stir fries or other dishes.
- Nasturtiums are not only beautiful and edible, they have health benefits as well. The leaves are high in vitamin C and also have strong anti-bacterial and anti-tumor properties. Tea made from the leaves is a common preventative for colds and flu.
- Grinding the leaves in water and straining is an easy way to make an all-natural disinfectant wash for minor cuts and scrapes.
Tip: If leaves and flowers are chopped up finely and added to other greens and vegetables, the warmth in their flavour is not as noticeable.
2. Flowers: Pick blossoms the same day as using, as close as possible to serving time. Store in the refrigerator or a vase.
- Stuff fresh blossoms with a blend of soft cheese (like goat, ricotta or cottage cheese) and fresh herbs, salmon or minced dried fruits.
- Mince the blossoms, add a little lemon peel and blend into fresh butter.
- Use the zesty-tasting flower instead of mustard in sandwiches.
- Make nasturtium oil by blending your choice of oil with a handful of blossoms and a clove of garlic. Strain before using.
3. Buds: Make sure the buds are fully closed and leave a bit of the stem attached when picking and use fresh just as you would the leaves to add a peppery zip to dishes and salads.
- Wash, drain and cover with boiling vinegar in a covered jar for pickled buds that taste just like capers.
- Add a fresh kick to salads like tabbouleh, potato and pasta salads.
4. Seeds: Can be harvested green as soon as the flowers have fallen off (immature for eating) or when mature for seed saving after they have fallen from the plant.
- Nasturtium Capers – Collect flower buds while they are still tight heads and harvest the unripe green seedpods before they harden and fall to the ground.
- They have a similar taste and texture to capers so make a great substitute. Wash and add buds and seedpods to a clean glass bottle. Add enough vinegar to cover and your pickled capers will be ready to eat in just three days!
Tip: If the seeds are pricked with a fork before adding the vinegar, this allows the flavour of the hot vinegar to permeate the density of the seeds and helps to preserve them.
Great for Your Health
Check out some of the health benefits of nasturtiums in this video:
Nasturtium Butter: Chop up a good handful of nasturtium flowers and mix with softened butter. Depending on what flavours you like, try adding pepper, garlic, or onions. Chill in a chocolate mold or small glass serving dish. Great with fresh bread with its pretty confetti-like colours.
Nasturtium Mayonnaise: A delicious accompaniment to fish. Just add chopped nasturtium flowers and/or leaves, a squeeze of lemon juice and some crushed garlic to your mayonnaise for a tasty alternative.
Eat Your Colours Salad: Dice and mix the following together:
Red: 1 1/4 cups (or 1/2 pint) cherry tomatoes sliced in half; Orange: 1 large carrot and 1 orange capsicum (sweet pepper) diced; Yellow: 1 chopped mango; Green: 1 sliced cucumber, unpeeled and 1/4 honey dew melon chopped; Blue: handful of common blue borage flowers; Purple: 1/4 diced purple salad onion.
Nasturtium Pesto: Learn how to make your own in this video.
Nasturtium Capers: Learn how to pickle the seeds to make capers in this video.
“Grow some in a hanging basket, up a trellis or arbor, a ground cover under a tree, in your vegie patch, a windowbox or brighten up a rock garden or difficult area. They will bring you joy, good health, a rainbow of colour and solve many problems.” – Isabell Shipard
Well, I hope you’re learning to love these incredible herbs like I am! There are even more uses for nasturtiums including using them as a pest strategy for your garden – more about this in a future post! If you are already growing nasturtiums, how do you use them? I’d love you to share your experiences and find out if this information is useful to you.
Interested to learn more about Nasturtiums? You may like 20 Reasons to Grow this Amazing Herb or grab yourself a copy of Isabell Shipard’s herb book or DVD course for a wealth of health giving information on edible herbs for your garden. Or check out the How to Grow articles for more inspiration.
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Copyright The Micro Gardener 2011 – http://www.themicrogardener.com