Nasturtiums: Companion Planting, Nutrition, Medicinal, and More

Every year I have a favorite part of the garden. Something that I’ve planted, or some sweet corner where everything just came together.

This year, my favorite part of the garden is the tomato bed on the shop roof, with the Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) hanging down. I absolutely love it.

When walking through that area, the heavenly scent of the blossoms is wonderful. I didn’t really know that nasturtiums smelled so sweet. It’s subtle, so if you only have one plant you might not notice it much. I have five big plants growing there, and the smell is so nice.

The humming birds visit them often. And who doesn’t love watching humming birds? I grew up in the north, so humming birds weren’t part of my life growing up. Now I get to see them every day!

The colors are stunning. They are various shades of orange and red, and they stand out beautifully against the dark green of the leaves. Some of the flowers are a lighter orange color, with a splash of red that looks like someone flung it on with a watercolor brush. Scrumptious. When the sun goes behind the trees, they sort of have a glow that is wonderful.

Nasturtiums Companion Planting
These red nasturtiums are beautifully displayed against the deep green of the leaves. They practically glow.
Nasturtiums Companion Planting
The photo doesn’t do these blooms justice. I just love them. That deep red, against the mottled orange is quite stunning in person.

These should be reason enough to grow nasturtiums, and those are just the aesthetics. Now for the other benefits of growing nasturtiums.

Culinary

The entire nasturtium plant is edible. I’ve only eaten the leaves and flowers, but the stems, buds, and seeds are edible as well.

Some people pickle the fresh green seeds; or they can be dried and powdered, to use as a peppery spice. I’m definitely going to give that a try. It would be great to have a pepper substitute that I can grow myself.

EDIT: Okay, I just tried a nibble of a green seed, straight off the plant, and they are HOT. It’s not a lingering burn, like some chilli peppers have, but a hot, mustardy hit. I’m going to chop ’em up and put them in my next ferment!

You can use leaves and seeds fresh or cooked. Flowers are best used fresh, if you want them to look pretty; but you can also add them to smoothies or other recipes, cooked or fresh. And they can keep in the fridge, inside a container, for a couple of days. Just be sure to add a damp cloth to the container, and don’t let the petals touch the sides.

Nasturtiums Companion Planting
This was Thursday’s garden salad: turnip, carrots, lettuce, snowpeas, and nasturtium leaves and flowers.

Nutritional information

If all of this information is accurate, then nasturtiums pack some crazy nutritional value! I’ve just finished reading a fairly in-depth article about the nutritional value of the nasturtium plant, and it is impressive. Here is an overview of the potential micro nutrients available in nasturtium flowers:

Micro elements:

  • zinc: 73-100% RDA
  • iron: 3.9 – 4.6% RDA
  • phosphorous: 7% RDA
  • potassium: 2.5% RDA
  • calcium: 3% RDA
  • magnesium: 4% RDA
  • copper: 1.2 – 5.2% RDA

That’s an impressive line-up of nutrients. Now add in the really high levels of vitamin C (100 – 200% RDA), and the many other things in this plant that I can’t even spell – much less pronounce – and it appears that I have a nutrient powerhouse growing in my garden.

But nutrients aren’t the only thing nasturtiums have to offer. There are medicinal benefits that have been observed as well.

Medicinal qualities

Some of the medicinal qualities attributed to the nasturtium are:

  • Antibacterial
  • Antifungal
  • Antioxidant
  • Digestive system help
  • Respiratory system help
  • Circulatory system help
  • Minor cuts and scrapes
  • Skin healing properties
  • Hair growth

I can’t endorse any sort of herbal medicines, or make any suggestions as to what works and what doesn’t. Anyway, in my experience, not all herbal medicines work for all people in the same way.

You need to do your own research, and careful experiments, in order to find out what might work for you. I have been learning slowly about herbal medicine, and hope to keep adding tidbits of information and experience to my studies.

With nasturtiums, I have only eaten them raw in salads. But now that I know a bit more about them, I will do some experimenting, and see how else I can incorporate them into my diet.

I’m super excited about nasturtium’s ability to help with clearing up skin problems, and stimulating hair growth. After the ravages of menopause, I could use the help! I’m going to do some more looking around, to see exactly how to use it.

And I think I would feel safe using a tea concoction for cleaning wounds, or itchy skin conditions. I would love to be able to add another easily grown medicinal to the collection.

In the garden

Growing nasturtiums can benefit the other plants in your garden. These benefits come in a variety of ways.

Nasturtiums can mask the presence of other plants that pest insects want to eat. One way is by using their abundant leaves to disguise the leaves of your crops. With their prolific profusion of leaves, and their vining tendency, there is plenty of plant to hide your precious crops.

Another way nasturtiums can protect your crops from voracious pests is by their smell. The leaves give off a peppery scent that some insects don’t like; and which can cover the scent of your crop plants. Mixed with the sweet scent of the flowers, these scents appear to have a protective effect.

Last year I planted nasturtiums all around my broccoli and kohlrabi, and I didn’t have any little green worms. Nary a one! This year I didn’t, and I’m curious to see if it makes a difference.

Nasturtiums Companion Planting
My broccoli last year was really fantastic. I didn’t have to battle white cabbage butterfly, and I think I know why. I planted nasturtiums all around them.

Nasturtiums can also act as trap crops, luring pest insects away from your garden plants. Aphids are attracted to nasturtiums, as are white cabbage butterflies. This is good news for our brassicas! It’s much less painful to cut back aphid-infested nasturtiums than it is aphid infected broccoli plants.

But pests aren’t the only insects that nasturtiums attract. If you watch your plants you’ll see a wide variety of pollinators and other beneficial insects enjoying the profusion of blooms. And they bloom well into the cool weather, so they are a good food crop for pollinators going into hibernation.

Nasturtiums can grow anywhere. They are drought tolerant, and will often grow in depleted soils where other garden plants fear to tread. Try growing a few crops of nasturtiums in depleted areas of your yard, and letting them compost in place. You might be pleasantly surprised at how healthy that soil will become.

As a matter of fact, all of the micro nutrients nasturtiums offer as health benefits to us are just as useful in the garden. Nasturtiums put out a ton of organic material, and it’s great to add to the compost, so those micro nutrients end up back in our garden soil.

One last way that nasturtiums can be helpful in the garden is as a groundcover. Their rampant growth habit makes them ideal to cover a fair chunk of ground, shading it to conserve water, and keeping weeds down once they’re established; while also doing all of the other things mentioned above.

I think they would be fabulous used as groundcover in a food forest. Aside from the fact that it would look stunning, it would be great chop-and-drop; and their habit of self-seeding would make them the perfect groundcover plant.

Planting and growing nasturtiums

Growing nasturtiums couldn’t be easier. I just poke the seeds into the ground, and they grow. It’s like magic. : )

If you want earlier blooms, you can start nasturtiums indoor, and plant them out after the last frost. This year I seeded them directly into the soil where I wanted them, some time in late March.

Nasturtiums are super easy to save seed from. The seeds are large and easily visible, making them a good project for kids. Nasturtiums also readily self-seed, so you can be sure that anywhere you’ve planted nasturtiums, you’re likely to see them come back in the spring – and bring their friends!

We have seedlings popping up all over the place from last year’s planting. If they’re growing somewhere where they’ll be in the way – or somewhere that it is going to be shaded out or trampled on – I just dig them up and move them somewhere else.

To keep your nasturtiums pumping out the flowers, keep them deadheaded. If you don’t, the plants will start to set seed, and stop blooming. Just pinch or cut off the spent flowers, and you’ll enjoy a beautiful profusion of blossoms well into fall.

Nasturtiums can be grown in pots, in the ground, even in a tree stump if you want. They’re really not all that picky. They will trail down over the edge of whatever they’re planted in, and grow out across the ground.

This year I have them growing in the roof planter with the tomatoes, along the stone wall (they did spectacularly there last year), and in a few other places around the yard. I really can’t have enough nasturtiums; and now that I know how healthy they are, I’m glad I have lots!

Nasturtiums Companion Planting
This corner of the rockery herb garden was gorgeous last year. A flower mix, and some nasturtiums really brightened up this semi-shade area.

Flower power

If you have spent any time at all studying the nutritional, medicinal, culinary, or garden benefits of flowers, you will have learned they many of them pack a powerful punch. In the garden, in the kitchen, and in the medicine cabinet, flowers have found their place.

Nasturtiums are no different. From the trace elements they contain, to the spicy delicacy of their leaves and petals, to the antibacterial effects they have, I have learned that nasturtiums should become a regular part of my diet.

And I’m looking forward to trying out the purported beauty benefits of nasturtiums, by trying some concoctions for my skin and hair. I’ll let you know how that works out.

I hope you’ve enjoyed and learned something from this little foray into the wide world of nasturtiums. I know I did!

If you have any questions, or experiences with nasturtiums, I’d be happy to hear from you.

Health, Hope & Happiness

Tracy

Nasturtiums Companion Planting
These trailing nasturtiums are hanging about four feet down. The humming birds really love them. I’m hoping to get a photo of one eventually.

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