Nasturtiums are colorful flowers with many uses


Nasturtium is an annual plant with attractive flowers and unique looking lily pad-like leaves. It’s easy to grow and totally safe around children. Leaves and flowers are both edible.

Nasturtiums thrive in sunny locations on infertile soil. Strangely enough, high fertility yields fewer blooms. These flowers range in color from yellow, through orange and peach hues all the way to bright red.

Five petaled flowers are about two inches across and have a prominent structure called a nectar spur. This structure looks something like the similar structure on columbine and also resembles the bracts on impatiens. Leaves are either solid green or variegated.

These brightly colored flowering plants can be started indoors or simply planted from seed. I prefer to do that. The seeds are relatively large for annual flower seeds. They are about the size of chickpeas and look like little brains.

Plant them about an inch deep when soil temperatures are above 50 F. In less than two weeks little nasturtium plants will pop up and quickly fill the area. Thin them if necessary.

Plants grow well in sandy infertile soils, but they must be kept from drying out. A little added organic matter can improve their health. Some watering is usually necessary but don’t over water them.

When your stand of nasturtiums thickens you may begin to harvest flowers and foliage for salads. A little extra water at this time can be helpful. Nasturtium flowers and foliage have a slight peppery taste which is made stronger by water stress. Removing flowers will also keep plants flowering longer.

Nasturtium flowers add flavor as well as make a colorful garnish. Leaves are often used cooked as well as in salads. Both, especially the flowers, make a spicy herbal tea.

Numerous sources claim nasturtiums repel whiteflies, squash bugs, cucumber beetles and striped pumpkin beetles. I remember my grandfather always planted them in his vegetable garden. He always grew bountiful crops of cucumber and squash on that sandy Maine glacial till.

Another thing I do remember is that aphids and slugs often attacked them. For that reason some people plant nasturtiums as companion plants to lure pests from other crops. I’m not entirely sold on that.

Therefore, when growing nasturtiums to eat, they should be washed thoroughly. Eating aphids won’t hurt you but I have no desire to consume them. I worked with a graduate student who put aphids on peanut butter sandwiches and it nearly made me sick. He thought it was funny, but I managed to convince him not to do it in my presence again.

Herbalists have long touted this plant for its medicinal uses. It has strong antimicrobial properties and has been used for urinary tract infections. It also has been used to treat cuts and abrasions for bacterial infections. Nutritionally, leaves and flowers are good sources for vitamins A, C and D.

Whether you want to eat them, use them medicinally, employ them as pest repellants for your garden or simply enjoy their uniqueness and beauty, Nasturtiums have something for everyone.

Nasturtium showing lilypad-like foliage and flowers with nectar spurs

Nasturtium showing lily pad-like foliage and flowers with nectar spurs growing among the herbs

 

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (tmanzer@ecpps.k12.nc.us).

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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