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Nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus

It is said that Monet was rather fond of them and planted them in the border of the pathway that led to the front door of his home in Giverny.  With enchanting names like “Empress of India”, “Whirlybird”, “Alaska”, “Peach Melba” and “Butter Cream”, no wonder Nasturtiums are so welcomed in the garden.   They just seem to add a touch of old-fashioned charm.

Above: Beautiful fall nasturtiums at Shelburne Farm in Vermont

Above: Beautiful fall nasturtiums at Shelburne Farm in Vermont

Nothing signals spring’s arrival more dramatically than the first bunch of jeweled toned nasturtiums perched on the shelf at your local garden center. If you are looking for decorative, even water lily pad- like foliage, with a wave of brightly-colored blossoms that are tasty to boot, then head for the nasturtiums.  You may be familiar with the varieties that have deep green leaves, but there are now a number of variegated, almost speckled ones, as well.

Above: Lily pads in the garden? No, more fall Nasturtiums from Vermont!

Above: Lily pads in the garden?
No, more fall Nasturtiums from Vermont!

Ideally, nasturtiums like to be in full sun, with moist, well drained soil. However, most varieties can survive when grown in partial sun. These carefree little dazzlers don’t seem to be bothered much by snails, other insects or diseases.  Enjoy them from March until sometime around late June when they succumb to our extreme Texas heat.

You’ll typically find two different kinds of nasturtiums: dwarf bush type and trailing.  The dwarf types are much more commonly available, and are useful as 10- to 12-inch tall colorful borders and for mass plantings.  The trailing variety will cascade dramatically down walls or hanging baskets.  Nasturtiums make a lovely addition to the herb garden with a multitude of culinary benefits.

There is nothing more intriguing than the tissue paper like profusion of blossoms that nasturtiums produce.   Although the blossoms appear delicate, they are actually very durable and make for vibrant and long-lasting garnishes.  Use the blossoms either whole or chopped to decorate creamy soups, salads, butters, cakes and platters.  Their sweet, peppery taste (both in the leaves and in the flowers) adds to the enjoyment.

Above: Organic nasturtium blossoms bundled  up and for sale at the Aspen, Colorado Summer market

Above: Organic nasturtium blossoms bundled up and for sale at the Aspen, Colorado Summer market

Nasturtiums are natives to the cool highlands of mountains extending from Mexico to central Argentina and Chile. The conquistadors brought these brightly colored plants back to Spain in the 1500’s. The Indians of Peru used the leaves as a tea to treat coughs, colds and the flu, as well as menstrual and respiratory difficulties.   Being high in vitamin C, nasturtiums act as a natural antibiotic, once used topically as a poultice for minor cuts and scratches.

 

Take advantage of the many decorative ways to use nasturtium flowers for your next gathering.  However, don’t be surprised; some people will turn up their noses to a beautiful flower sitting atop a cracker spread with herb-flavored cream cheese.  Others will fully embrace the opportunity to sample such a tasty little gem.  If we could only extend our growing season nasturtiums might grace our tables more often.  Oh, dreaded Texas summers, why do you leave us so little time to enjoy this beloved plant?

Linda

Tip: Texas AgriLife Extension Service recommends planting nasturtium seeds about the time of the average last frost. They are usually planted where they can be allowed to mature, since young seedlings can be difficult to transplant.


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