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…
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.
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.