Itʼs the season for Nasturtiums!
As I step outside each morning this Spring, my heart is filled with joy as I take in the new life and beauty. The first thing that catches my eye, is the showy mass of nasturtiums happily climbing my hoop house as they spread their cheer. Every experienced gardener knows that nasturtium is a must have in our desert gardens as a wonderful companion for vegetable gardening. For the beginner, there really isnʼt anything easier to grow. In gorgeous colors of vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows and even the occasional pink, this dependable beauty lends confidence to the new gardener as it sprawls and tumbles through the garden.
Nasturtium is not just a pretty face, though, it also has an abundance of uses both culinary and herbal. During the Victorian Era, when scurvy was a grave concern, nasturtium was used for itʼs high vitamin C content and itʼs antibacterial properties. The latin binomial for nasturtium is Tropaeolum Majus, and the common name nasturtium literally means nose tweaker or nose twister! Native to South and Central America, it was known as Indian cress because of the peppery oil it releases similar to cress. These peppery oils are also the cause of twitching noses, hence the name “nose twister.”
The leaves flowers and seeds are all edible, the flowers add a wonderful color to salads, sandwiches and spreads, the leaves, a peppery bite to liven up dishes. Using the seed pods are my favorite. The plant forms berry like pods that can be pickled much the same as capers. I simply rinse them off, make a quick pickling vinegar with a bay leaf, cup of vinegar and 1 tablespoon of sugar, and half a teaspoon of salt. I pour the hot liquid over the pods and seal a sterilized jar and let it cool. Easy Peasy! I have also added the flowers to plates of hummus and vegetables for an instant wow factor or added it to herby mayonnaise for some peppery flavor and lots of color. Letʼs not forget nasturtium butter as it gloriously melts into a piece of fish or roasted vegetables and subtly infuses the dish with itʼs flavor.
For Health and Healing
Nasturtiumʼs high vitamin C content makes it a great ally when nursing colds and fluʼs or even to boost the immune system. It promotes the formation of red blood cells, stimulates hair growth and can be used for respiratory infections. It is a powerful antibacterial and can be used to heal wounds and reduce inflammation.
Growing nasturtium in the South West Desert is really easy. They will die out once our temperatures start to soar, so getting an early start is the trick. They are best sown about half an inch deep in October, with the anticipation of cheery blooms the coming Spring. I like to direct sow them, but they can be started in early December indoors and transplanted outside in early February. They like poor soils, so no need for fertilizers and are great for in ground planting or containers and raised beds. They come in both trailing and bushing varieties and an assortment of colors. Nasturtium is an annual, but there is also a perennial nasturtium which has edible roots called mashua. It is too hot here to grow mashua, but if I can create the correct microclimate, I may be up to the task. Next year my garden will include the Alaska Red Shades variety which is a stunning red shade with variegated foliage. This is a dwarfing variety that is upright and a great option to tuck into corners. As a companion plant, they do great with the brassica family, squash, cucumber, tomatoes, and potatoes and are an excellent trap crop for aphids.
As I sign off, it is time for lunch. A quick sandwich I think and I will be sure to tuck in a few nasturtium leaves for immune boosting goodness!
Ayshica Andrews is a realtor® serving her clients in the greater Metropolitan Phoenix area.
Recently she had an exciting idea to combine her passion for growing food in the desert with her real estate skills. She is currently focusing on a special niche market assisting all kinds of gardeners, food forest growers, permaculture enthusiasts, and urban food farmers locate and purchase property that matches their food growing needs. She draws on her knowledge of the current real estate markets, access to off market inventory and gardening community to find that special “food grower friendly” property.
Ayshica is studying permaculture with Matt Powers to deepen her knowledge and understanding of permaculture, as an added value to her skills.
When she is not working, she spends as much time as she can growing her own food in her space, Solitary Bee Backyard Farm. She enjoys growing a variety of fruit and vegetables, culinary and medicinal herbs, and flowers. She is always looking for the next unique or rare plant addition and she is always finding that one more spot!
To connect with Ayshica, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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