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Nasturtium (Tropaeolum) is an annual plant that can be grown easily in containers or your garden as an excellent ground cover. Nasturtium has big, round green leaves and large, beautiful flowers, usually red, orange, or yellow.
As an annual, you have to sow seeds each spring, but one wonderful thing about nasturtiums is that it self-seeds very well, meaning it drops its seeds onto the ground that stay dormant over the winter. Come springtime, new nasturtium plants pop up as if by magic.
As well as making your garden look glorious, nasturtiums also work well as a companion plant by luring away many garden pests from other crops. In addition to attracting the naughty bugs, they are also a favorite for our pollinator friends the bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
Source: John Hritz/Flickr
One of the most exciting attributes that nasturtium has is that it is delicious. Much of the nasturtium plant is edible, from the leaves to the flowers to the seeds. The leaves can be eaten raw in salads but are sturdy enough to be cooked down, too. They have a spicy, peppery flavor similar to watercress or arugula and can be used to make pesto and other culinary delights.
The flowers are also edible and look stunning when used to garnish salads, cakes, or smoothies. They are peppery like the leaves but have a much milder flavor. Amazingly, the seeds can also be pickled to make what is commonly referred to as “pauper’s capers.”
How Do I Grow Nasturtium From Seed?
Nasturtium seeds are commonly sold at nurseries, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding some. They work well being direct seeded into your garden beds or containers, but if you are planting outside, be sure to plant the seeds after the last frost. Nasturtiums have large, very hard seeds, so if you want to help your seed along a little, you can lightly sand the hard outer casing of the seed before putting it into the soil. Don’t go too wild with this. Stop when you see a lighter color emerge and try not to damage the innards. You can also soak the seeds in water before planting to help with germination.
Another wonderful thing about nasturtiums is that they thrive in poor soil and don’t need much babysitting at all. Your plants will enjoy full sun and well-drained soil. They will grow in partial shade but will produce fewer flowers. Sow your prepared seeds about 1/2 inch deep in the soil and 10-12 inches apart. The plants will spread, so there is no need to overcrowd them. You should see your seedling sprouting after a week to 10 days.
What Can I Do With My Flourishing Nasturtium Plants?
Now that you hopefully have a jungle of nasturtiums in your garden, there are a few fun things that you can do with the leaves, flowers, and seeds.
- Nasturtium Capers– You need to harvest the seeds while they are still green and firm. Be careful not to take all of them if you want them to reseed themselves next season. Look towards the base of the plant if you are having trouble finding them. Once you have a good harvest, put your clean and dry seeds into a jar. Next, bring some white vinegar and spices of your choice to the boil, then pour the mixture into the jar over the seeds. Seal the jar and refrigerate. Use them in salads, pasta dishes, or on pizza.
- Nasturtium Pesto– Take your favorite pesto recipe and simply substitute the traditional basil leaves for the nasturtium leaves. You could even do half and half if you think you will miss the basil flavor. Use your pesto in pasta or as a toast topping.
- Stuffed Nasturtium Leaves– Pluck the biggest nasturtium leaves from your plant and use them to wrap up rice and veggies, just as you might with grape or cabbage leaves. Garnish this plate with nasturtium flowers to make an impression.
- Nasturtium Salad– Use nasturtium leaves just as you would arugula leaves. Nasturtium is quite peppery, so you might want to smooth out the fire with some milder tasting leaves like lettuce or spinach. Nasturtium makes for a salad high in vitamin C and minerals. Again, garnish with nasturtium flowers and toss in your favorite homemade salad dressing.
- Dried herb– You can also dry out a bunch of leaves and then crumble them up to be used as you would any other dried herb. Use dried nasturtium if you are looking for an extra peppery kick. Remember that dried herbs tend to have a more intense flavor than their fresh counterparts.
Grow nasturtium to adorn your window boxes and garden beds. Grow it to please the hummingbirds. Give your cabbages a break from the hungry caterpillars by sowing a crop of nasturtium nearby, or grow it so that you can enjoy delicious and pretty salads this season. Whatever the reason, get hold of some nasturtium seeds and start sowing.
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