Thursday, 17 April 2014

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)

The nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) is a trailing annual plant from the Tropaeolaceae family and is the only genus in this family. It is also known as Indian cress, lark's heel, monk's cress and garden nasturtium. Originating from the Andes region in South America, it has naturalised in parts of North America. Nasturtiums are usually used in the UK as a colourful annual summer flower.

An image of nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) leaves and flowers
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) leaves and flowers

Growing methods

Nasturtiums are easy to grow. Sow seeds in the spring in pots or in the ground in their final position. Seeds will come up quickly, usually within 2 weeks. Thin seedlings out to about 30cm apart. Nasturtiums will flower throughout the summer and into the autumn. The flowers come in various colours including yellow, orange, cream and reds. Leave the flowers to set seed and plenty of plants will come up next year of their own accord. In this way they can be treated as perennials rather than annuals.

Plants like the sun and well drained soil. If they are grown on rich soil then there will be an abundance of leaves but fewer flowers. The poorer the soil, the more flowers will be produced.

Other uses

Nasturtiums are considered a good companion plant in the garden. They will attract insects and butterfly larvae away from other plants and therefore be used as a trap crop. Use them to fill up any empty spaces or gaps in the fruit, vegetable or ornamental garden.

This plant has many herbal medicinal uses and the plant has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and antiseptic qualities. In the Andes it is used as a disinfectant, expectorant and wound healer.

A drying oil can be obtained from the seed which can be used in paints and varnishes.

Raw edible parts

All parts of the plant are edible raw. The taste is peppery, spicy and hot. The flowers are less hot than the leaves. The leaves are less hot than the seed pods. The seed pods are very very hot! The flavour overall is similar to cress.

The leaves, flower buds and flowers can be added to salads. The ridged unripe green seed pods can be eaten raw or pickled in vinegar or salt water to be used in a similar way to capers. The flowers can be added to raw apple cider vinegar to make a peppery nasturtium vinegar. The dried seeds can be ground down to use as a pepper or pressed to make an oil.

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