Edible of the week: Nasturtiums

by growingpeople

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) are a fantastic hardy annual (not to be confused with the genus Nasturtium, which includes watercress and is entirely unrelated).  Not only are the young leaves and flowers delicious and beautiful in salads (think rocket but more so), but you can also make “Poor Man’s Capers” from the seeds (real capers are the salted and pickled buds of the perennial caper plant, Capparis spinosa).

Pick the seeds before they’re ripe (they need to be bright green, not dark brown) and soak them in salted water (50g salt/450ml water) for two days.  (Do leave a few seeds to ripen fully so that you have more to plant next year or to give to your friends). Rinse and soak in cold water for a day. Drain, put in a jar and cover with boiled vinegar. Close jars and leave for three weeks before eating with salads or anything else. You can make them even better by adding garlic and herbs to your vinegar before boiling.

An unripe seed, bottom left


Nasturtiums make great ground cover, spreading prolifically and self-seeding (my two plants cover a length of over 3 meters on my patio). Their love of poor soil makes them ideal for that corner of your garden where nothing else grows, and they won’t need any of your nitrogen-rich compost, which will only over-feed them and increase leaf rather than flower growth.  In a vegetable garden they add colour throughout the summer, and are fantastic companion plants.  Not only do they attract beneficial pollinating insects, but they also can be used as a ‘sacrificial’ crop, attracting pests including cabbage white butterflies, blackfly and other aphids, who will favour them over your tomatoes, beans, potatoes and brassicas. Finally, their large leaves and fleshy stems make excellent composting material at the end of the growing season.



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