Nasturtiums are one of the prettiest plants in the winter garden. They are also one of the tastiest treats in the kitchen. Spanish explorers discovered nasturtiums in the Andes Mountains of Peru around 1560 and sent seeds home to Spain. Soon, nasturtium cultivation spread throughout Europe and Asia, then finally to North America.
The flowers are red, gold and orange, and the roundish leaves are a deep, dark green. As the plants mature, seed pods form. The flowers, leaves and seed pods are all edible and delicious in many types of dishes— 10 or 15 nasturtium plants can supply the table all through the winter.
Nasturtiums are best started by transplant to maximize the growing season. But, if started early in the season (the first week in November), they can be sowed from seed directly into the garden. You can order seeds online from Eden Brothers or Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.
A freeze or heavy frost will kill nasturtiums. However, if they are kept in a pot and brought into the house during a freeze, they can grow quite large. They are especially beautiful in hanging baskets, allowing the vine-like presence to cascade down in red, gold and green bunches. During the heat of summer, place the potted plant in afternoon shade and water often.
Whether in the garden, on the patio, in a vase or on the plate, nasturtiums may become your favorite flower of the season.
Spacing, 8” to 12”. Height, 18” to 36”. Cool weather flower. Plant from transplant in November through January. Grows well in sandy, well-drained soil. Add at least one inch compost to soil when planting, plus one-half cup native wood ash and one cup pastured poultry manure per plant. Do not over-fertilize for risk of limiting the blooms. Keep soil moist until established. For vining varieties: space 4’ to 6’ apart or provide trellis.
Tropaeolum, commonly known as nasturtium, grow red, gold or orange flowers, and has green roundish leaves. They are cheerful plants that are fairly easy to grow. Harvest no more than 2/3 of the leaves at a time; they quickly regrow. Harvest flowers as soon as fully opened.
The leaves of nasturtiums have a spicy, unique flavor. Use them in salads, on burgers instead of lettuce or on pizza instead of basil. You can even sauté the leaves like spinach. The them taste of fruit with a little kick. Use flowers in salads or as edible garnish with any dish. For a milder flavor, use the petals by themselves.
As the weather warms, nasturtiums develop seed pods, each of which contains three large seeds. To make “poor man’s capers,” harvest the seeds while they are still green and tender, then soak them in salted water for a couple of days to tame the bold flavor. Brine the seeds in your favorite pickling recipe and store these “nasturtium capers” in the fridge for several weeks. Thomas Jefferson loved pickled nasturtiums and preferred them to capers, a delicacy of the time.