For the Love of Nasturtiums

I was on Martha Stewart Radio today to talk about my new book about growing herbs and edible flowers. The question was asked, “What is your favourite edible flower?” and I replied, without hesitation, “Nasturtiums, hands down.

Of course, now as I am typing this, I am hesitating, “But wait… what about roses? You really like roses. Don’t forget violas! You lose your mind over them in the springtime. Scented geraniums… you can’t live without them.” And so on…

Were I stranded on a desert island with only one edible flower at my disposal… I’d probably choose lavender. Okay, bad example.

No, really. I often choose nasturtium when asked this question and I think it comes down to the unexpected. Most people expect edible flowers to taste kind of sweet, floral, and a little bit weird, which is how many flowers smell. When I hold out a nasturtium, which does not have a particularly strong smell, and ask a friend to eat it, no one ever anticipates that their tongue will be met with a burst of sweetness and a spicy, radish-like kick.

Nasturtiums are fun, perhaps more-so than other flowers.

They are also very useful. The photo above is of a container of variegated ‘Alaska Mix’ nasturtiums that I grew last year. That container sat at my back door for months, supplying us with a constant stream of edible flowers and buds that we added daily to cold salads and as garnishes with warm meals. We eat the young, tender leaves, too. I have used them to make pesto, which is not too bad on toast with some Parmesan cheese or when used to flavour rice.

Growing Tips

As I mentioned on the radio this morning, the trick to growing nasturtiums in containers is not to let the soil dry out. It took me years to figure this out as nasturtiums that are grown in the ground are much more tolerant of drought and intense sun. It seems contrary to the popular adage that you should “…be nasty to nasturtiums“, but I’ve found that applies more to the nutritional content of the soil than to moisture. Like tomatoes, nasturtiums will endlessly produce oversized, healthy leaves in nitrogen-rich soil, but don’t expect many flowers.

You can get away with a slightly shadier spot when growing in pots, and they will even appreciate a little bit of protection from exposure, while in-ground plants are at their best when the sun is warm and bright. The other trick is to choose mounding varieties such as ‘Empress of India’ and ‘Cherries Jubilee’ that won’t outgrow the pot, or better yet, plant no more than three seeds into a wide pot like the one I used next to our door.

Here’s a link to another article I wrote a few years back on growing nasturtiums. And of course, my new book “Easy Growing” has a couple of pages dedicated to their culture and use. There is a photo on page 196 of my previous book, “Grow Great Grub” of a glass container of my own homemade, nuclear orange nasturtium flower vinegar. That’s my favourite way to preserve and enjoy their colour all year long.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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13 thoughts on “For the Love of Nasturtiums

  1. Nasturtiums are one of my favourite annuals to grow in large containers. I must remember to plant more this year as in other years I always make that comment when they are blooming. My favourite container to plant them in is an old washing machine drum.

  2. There is nothing prettier than a bowl of cold cucumber soup with a nasturtium blossom floated on top–jonesing for summer here!
    Nasturtiums are also helpful as “trap crops”–they attract aphids.

  3. Nasturtiums are my favourites too! Gorgeous photo! They’re fun and cheerful. The plants in my garden plot last year were 3 feet across! The peppery leaves are also great in sandwiches.

    Also, congratulations on the lovely new book!

  4. I, too, love the edible flowers you mentioned — & if I could only grow one, it would be ‘Hidcote’ lavender — but reasons of “fun”, yes, nasturtiums are tops. Yet if you told me I could never ever grow violas again, I’d be heart-broken. And calendula — it needs to be in every garden. The bees love it!

    Congratulations on the book release today. I’m hoping my copy (ordered today) arrives early next week.

  5. Great article. I just found your site and it’s such a wealth of information. Nasturtiums have such amazing sweetness and pronounced heat. They grow wild all around our neighborhood in Santa Barbara. My favorite way to use them is in Nasturtium pesto. It makes a great dip for all those extra garden vegetables we harvest.

    Here’s the link to the recipe if you’re interested.

    Cheers and Congrats on the book.

  6. I didn’t realize people used the leaves for pesto. I love the spiciness of the flowers. I’ve only really used them fresh though in salads. Maybe I’ll look for a few recipes!

  7. Hmm, you’re really starting to change my mind about nasturtiums. This photo, for starters, is beautiful–the variegated foliage is stunning. Nasturtiums run wild in our SF neighborhood, so I battle them (and the aphids they attract) quite a bit. But, I might have to grow a pretty type like this one in a container and make nice with the Nasties.

    • I envy your ability to grow them perennially in San Fran. I can also see how they’d become a bit of a menace. But on the flip side you can easily tear them out and replace when the aphids take over.

  8. just planted our first set of nasturtium seeds for the season! In South Carolina, we can start setting seedlings out in a few weeks. Right now, they are on the screen porch seedling rack with lighting.

    A new reader to the blog, and loving it. Thanks!

  9. Congrats on the book! I have an unrequited love with the nasturtiums in my life. I cannot seem to get them to get going from seed. I’ve tried direct seeding, indoor seed starting, nicking, etc.) Any tips? I’ve got a fairly green thumb otherwise and have successfully grown a lot of tetchy perennials from seed without a hitch. But growing nasturtiums is an elusive goal for me.

    • You didn’t mention soaking. Have you tried that? No more than 12 hours or they can rot.

      If all else fails buy transplants. Most garden centers sell cell packs of the popular varieties after the last frost.

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