Nasturtiums, among the best-known edible flowers, are popular with chefs. Not only do they dress up a plate, but they're high in vitamins A, C (ten times as much as in lettuce), and D. The leaves, flowers, buds, and seeds are all edible, with a peppery flavour that adds a zing to any dish.
Nasturtium 'Blue Pepe' is a unique variety from Europe. A culinary variety, originally bred for the edible small round leaves that have a steel blue top leaf colour with purplish undersides and dainty stems, offset by the vivid dark red flowers.
If you've never tried nasturtium, first experiment using the leaves in salads and then try the flowers as a decorative topping. The flowers pair sweetness and spice while the leaves deliver peppery punches. The thin, tender petals are the mildest tasting part of the plant, mixing a soft pepper flavour with a light sweetness. The cone of the flower is almost syrupy sweet.
Nasturtiums have a surprisingly pleasant smell. It's a sweet, simple scent that's very much like honey. The only hint of spice to the flowers is something vaguely like cinnamon.
Not only are nasturtiums fast and easy to grow, these edible flowers look and taste good too. In fact, nasturtiums are so easy to grow that many home gardeners overlook them. The plants grow well in full sun or part shade, and bloom all season. And you can eat almost the whole plant. What more could a gardener ask for?
Sowing: Sow indoors in early spring or direct sow in late spring to early summer
Soak the seed overnight to enhance germination. They should come up in a week to ten days depending on the soil temperature. In very hot summer regions, plant in autumn for winter bloom.
For earlier flowering they can be sown indoors in spring at a temperature of 15 to 18°C (60 to 65°F). Sow in peat pots or trays of moist seed compost and cover with a very fine sprinkling of compost or vermiculite. Keep the surface of the compost moist but not waterlogged; germination will usually take 14 to 21 days. Transplant to larger pots if required or directly to their final position. Gradually acclimate them to outdoor conditions for 10 to 15 days before planting out after all risk of frost.
Planting nasturtiums is as simple as poking a hole in the soil with your finger and dropping in one of the rather large seeds. Sow directly where they are to flower in late spring onwards. They prefer a sunny open site but will grow in most sites and soils. Seeds germinate in 7 to 21 days and grow quickly in warm weather. The distinctive seedlings and can be told from nearby weed seedlings quite easily.
Plant nasturtiums in well-drained soil in full sun. They will grow in partial shade, but will not bloom well under those conditions. Although they like dry soils and will tolerate drought, water them during the entire growing season to keep them blooming.
Nasturtiums perform well in poor soil, but it is comfortable in average garden soil with loose, light texture as long as the soil is not overly fertile with nitrogen. They are excellent in pots and containers, but may have to be trimmed back periodically to prevent them from crowding out the other plants.
Do not fertilise, except on extremely poor soil, as fertilization will promote leaf growth and suppress flowering. Dead-heading or picking the flowers will prolong blooming. Nasturtium will continue blooming until frost.
Cottage/Informal Garden, Flowers Borders and Beds, Hanging Baskets and Containers, Ideal for Children.
Nasturtium flowers and leaves are edible, so long as your garden is organic and make an attractive addition to salads. They have a slightly peppery taste reminiscent of watercress, with a spicier flavour when grown in sunnier, hotter weather. The flowers are less intensely flavoured than the leaves. The flowers are particularly dramatic when mixed with dark greens, such as spinach.
In the kitchen, add Nasturtium flowers to green salads and as a garnish for stir-fry dishes. The petals make colourful additions to for potato salads. Flowers are delicious accompaniments to salmon and shrimp. You can also stuff them and cook them with pasta. Flowers can be used whole or chopped as a garnish on cream soups, in herb butters or cheese spreads, or on cakes and platters. You could stuff the blossoms with cream cheese or another mixture for an unusual hors d'oeuvre. For the ultimate in fancy tea sandwiches try combining orange nasturtium blossoms and violets on open-faced cucumber sandwiches.
Use the flowers to flavour vinegar (use five same-coloured blossoms per cup of vinegar): cover the blossoms with hot white wine vinegar, let steep overnight, strain out the flowers and replace with fresh blooms for an attractive appearance in clear glass bottles.
The seeds can be used like black pepper, simply dry and grind in a pepper mill or pestle and mortar.
Pickle the buds or unripe seedpods as a substitute for capers. Nasturtium seeds are nutty and peppery. They can be pickled to make an English version of the continental caper or used to make vinegar for dressing. They grow in little clusters of three, and should be picked green for pickling. Pickled nasturtium seeds are also called Nasturtium capers, Poor man’s capers, and California capers.
When harvesting only pick the leaves and flowers as you need them and harvest the seeds only when they are ripe.
Before harvesting a whole patch of nasturtiums, select young and tender leaves and taste a few first. Their flavour may vary depending on the plant, position and on soil and weather conditions. Generally, the more stressed a plant is (by lack of water or nutrients, or exposure to adverse weather), the more pungent its flavour.
Harvest buds or fully opened flowers in midmorning, ideally on a cool day. The entire blossom is edible, but if you find the organs inside the petals to be bitter, you can remove them with scissors. Gently wash and dry the flowers and leaves, and store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
Nasturtium is an excellent companion for many plants and generally thought of as a sacrificial plant for insect pests. Studies say it is among the best at attracting predatory insects.
Nasturtium are a good companion plant to many crops but especially to members of the cabbage family, deterring aphids, and beetles while improving growth and flavour. It is a great trap crop for aphids in particular the black aphids and they also deter woolly aphids, white-flies, cucumber beetles and other pests of the cucurbit family.
It has been the practice of some fruit growers that planting nasturtiums every year in the root zone of fruit trees allow the trees to take up the pungent odour of the plants and repel bugs. It has no taste effect on the fruit.
Use near to tomatoes, radish, cabbage, cucumbers and other squashes and plant under fruit trees.
Rabbits hate nasturtiums and keep well away.
This common name refers to the fact that it has a mustard oil similar to that produced by watercress (Nasturtium officinale). Early English herbalists referred to nasturtiums as "Indian cress" after the conquistadors discovered them in the jungles of Peru and Mexico and brought them back to Spain in the 16th century.
Adding flowers to food is not new, it has long been a custom in many cultures around the world. For centuries, Chinese cooks have used lotus, chrysanthemum, and lily flowers or buds in their recipes. American colonists added marigolds to mutton broth.
- Additional Information
Average Seed Count 25 Seeds Common Name Nasturtium Other Common Names Indian Cress Family Tropaeolaceae Genus Tropaeolum Species majus Cultivar Blue Pepe Synonym Nasturtium officinale Hardiness Hardy Annual Natural Flower Time June to October Foliage Blue-Green Leaves Height 20cm (8in) Spread 60cm (24in) Position Full Sun Aspect West or South facing. Exposed or Sheltered Soil Well Drained (Can thrive in poor soil)