Nasturtiums are annuals that grow well from seed. The genus is Tropaeolum (trop EYE oh lum), which is from a Greek word meaning “to twine” as some nasturtiums will climb on a support.
A Peppery Taste
Tropaeolum minor was first found growing in Mexico and Peru and introduced to England in 1574. The English called the plant Indian Cress because the leaves tasted sharp. The peppery taste and characteristic scent led to the name “nasturtium,” which is from the Latin word meaning “nose twister.”
Sailors once ate the pickled seeds of this plant, which were similar to capers, to help prevent scurvy during long sea voyages, and all parts of the plant are edible. The flowers and leaves are eaten raw in salads and are also used as garnishes.
The flowers have five petals and are spurred and come in cheerful reds, yellows, oranges and creams. The leaves are round with radial veins like fairy umbrellas. Nasturtiums survive in warm regions for several years and often self seed but are only reliably hardy in zones 8-11.
They are good in containers and withstand drought better than most annuals but do best in moist well-drained soil in full to part sun. If the soil is too rich they produce mainly leaves instead of flowers. They are susceptible to aphids, and cabbage moth caterpillars like them.
Try Some in a Vase
A bouquet of nasturtium flowers in a short vase is enhanced by the addition of a few of the round leaves, and these unprepossessing flowers last in water about 4-5 days.