The nasturtium is an edible flower often used to add a peppery flavor to dishes or add visual appeal and dress them up with the flower’s bright colors. The flowers have been used this way for hundreds of years. Nasturtium flowers can be used in lettuce or potato salads or to garnish seafood dishes. Chopped up, nasturtium flowers can be added to shrimp salad. As an unusual and decorative touch, some people like to top birthday cakes and other sweet confections with nasturtium flowers, to the delight of adults and children.
Today gardeners consider the nasturtium to be a flower, but throughout history it has had a bit of an identity crisis. At various times it has been labeled an herb, a fruit and a vegetable. Thomas Jefferson grew them at Monticello in the 1700s as a vegetable, and it is believed he ate pickled nasturtium seeds. The high content of vitamin C in the nasturtium’s leaves helped ward off scurvy in Victorian times. The history of eating nasturtium flowers reaches back to the Incas, who used them in medicines and salads. Young blooms generally have a more appealing taste than older blooms, as age increases their pungency.
Growing nasturtiums from seed is not difficult, and they can be started outdoors or indoors, although direct seeding in their outdoor location is recommended. The flowers require well-drained soil with a moderate amount of nitrogen. The plants do best in a sunny location, but they appreciate a shady afternoon spot in areas with excessive heat. A number of different varieties of nasturtium seed are available for purchase, including tailing varieties and compact types.
Caring for nasturtiums is relatively easy because they tend to need very little attention. A nasturtium, like many flowers, will produce more blooms if some of the flowers are picked, either to deadhead spent blooms or to use new blooms in the kitchen. These plants, like morning glories, do not care much for fertilizer, but unlike morning glories they will readily self-seed for the following growing season. One of the only real concerns a gardener may have with nasturtium flowers is which variety to choose. Garden catalogs or websites can help with the selection, which can be determined by the site where a gardener wants to plant them. A trailing variety, for example, should be selected for window boxes.