Nasturtiums are of the genus Tropaeolum with over 80 species of annual and perennial herbaceous flowering plants. Literally translated, nasturtium means “nose-tweaker” or “nose-twister”. This probably was labeled by the first person that tasted this plant, which has a peppery tang due to the oil it produces similar to the flavor of watercress. The common nasturtium found in our gardens is T. majus . All parts of T. majus are edible. The flower is most commonly consumed as an ornamental salad ingredient, but is also used in stir fry recipes. The flowers are high in Vitamin C and the unripe seed pods can be added to vinegars to produce a condiment, sometimes used in place of capers.
It’s fun to watch the children in our “Seed to Table” program here at Sunshine Care, A Community of Assisted Living Homes, run straight to the nasturtium patches and pluck off the flowers and show off to our residents that they enjoy the flavor of these beautiful flowers. I like to add the leaves to sandwiches, instead of lettuce, to enjoy a kick of radish flavor.
In our landscape, nasturtium flowers are extremely attractive. In the gardens, they are versatile and useful. The plants besides being fully edible, they can also be used to lure aphids away from other edible plants in the garden.
Nasturtiums are popular for their rich, saturated jewel- toned colors. The plants are easy to grow with minimal care. Different varieties can be either cascading, climbing or bushy in plant habit. Nasturtiums seem to thrive on neglect. Soil that is too rich and fertile can result in lush foliage growth with few flowers. Well drained and otherwise poor soil can yield big blooms.
There are varieties for many garden schemes. Dwarf and variegated varieties add an ornamental element to small containers or when mixed with solid green foliage plants. Bushy varieties add pop to borders and edges while trailing varieties can be used as ground cover. Climbing varieties can stand out by adding height in the garden or be used as spillers in window boxes and hanging baskets.
Here in Inland San Diego County, our nasturtium plants seem to thrive in the cooler months everywhere they have self- seeded themselves over the years. We find large patches of gorgeous flowers in our orchards, in islands under palm trees and by the fountain areas near our pine forest. They seem to expand and come from nowhere starting in September, then start to fizzle out and shrink during the heat of summer. Partial shade areas maintain their beauty year round.
Nasturtium are generally started from seed so they aren’t popular in nurseries and garden centers. The seed germinate quickly and they will bloom quickly. They are a great addition to our Horticultural and Intergenerational Gardening programs because the children and residents can easily manipulate the sowing of their large seeds. Nasturtium prefer being direct seeded in the garden instead of grown as transplants due to their susceptibility to transplant shock, BUT— we have been successful with seeding in our 2.25” peat pots. Once they have germinated and grown out to about 4-5” in height, they can successfully be planted in our school gardens and around the houses by planting the entire peat pot in the ground. Once planted, they take care of themselves. This is an easy activity for the kids and residents with quick gratification.
We water our nasturtium patches a couple times a week and they are on timers. Deadheading is not usually necessary, unless the plant has been stressed and not releasing the spent blooms. Don’t fertilize nasturtium plants at all during the growing season. Feeding them can cause the plants to put out more foliage and less blooms.
Varieties of nasturtium that we use are —
The Jewel Series for bushy dwarf plants with profuse double and semi double flowers.
The Alaska Series, another bushy and dwarf type with variegated foliage and blooms held high above the foliage.
Climbing Phoenix are vining pinwheel nasturtium with unique split flower petals in many gorgeous colors.
So toss some nasturtium seed around your garden and spice up your salads and brighten up your landscape. Nasturtium care is amazingly simple – plant them and forget about them, then enjoy their perky blooms.