The Various Health Benefits and Uses of Nasturtiums
See What Nasturtiums Look Like
The botanical name for the plant that is being referred to here is Tropaeolum Majus and should not be confused with Nasturtium Officinale. The latter is more commonly known as Watercress. .
The Uses of Nasturtiums in History
These sunny, wonderful little flowers originated in South America and were widely used by the Meso-Americans for urinary tract infections, kidney problems and for their general antibiotic action.
In Ancient Times
The leaves were used to prevent scurvy, to supplement the daily diet, and add flavor. The peppery leaves were very popular and the seeds were a prized delicacy.
In fact, they were considered so important that no home was without a nasturtium plant if they could avoid it. The plants are also so undemanding that they were perfect for the rocky soil of the Andes.
In the Middle Ages
In the 1600's in England, Nasturtiums were a valued plant and were called Indian Cress (Because of their similarity in flavor to Watercress.)
The high Vitamin C content made the so-called "Indian Cress" a highly nutritious complement for the diet.
Wherever they have been introduced, these plants have quickly become a firm favorite because of their medicinal and culinary uses.
I always make sure that I have a bed of these sunny little flowers and always look forward to spring and summer when they burst with color.
The Benefits and Uses of Nasturtiums Today
Nasturtiums are a favorite part of many people's garden. Their cheery bright faces brighten the garden even on the dreariest day and can be used for a pop of color in cuisine as well. As cut flowers go, they look great but don't last too long.
You could, however, grow them in a pot inside as long as they get full sunlight and the potting soil is not too rich.
The flowers are often added to salads to give them some color and the leaves add a great peppery taste to salads as well.
The seeds are often used in place of capers.
Just about the whole plant is useful.
They Come in All Sorts of Colors
Avoid if Pregnant
If taken during early pregnancy, it might induce menstruation and cause a miscarriage. It should be avoided in all its forms during pregnancy - flowers, leaves, and capers.
The Health Benefits of Nastutiums
A lot of people are familiar with nasturtiums but are unaware of the health benefits of this little plant.
Nasturtium leaves have a high concentration of Vitamin C and are also a natural antibiotic. Eating a couple of the peppery leaves at the onset of a cold can stop it dead in its tracks. The gentle antibiotic action of the leaves makes them ideal for treating minor colds and flu. Eat one to two leaves three times a day for full benefits.
On a personal note, my brother will never eat nasturtium leaves again - when he was a child, he developed a fever and my mom gave him a couple of leaves to eat - the next day he came out in chicken pox and still, to this day, insists that the chickenpox was caused by the nasturtium leaves. (This is, of course, silly - the fever he had was the first symptom of the chicken pox.)
While it was used in ancient times as a treatment for renal disease, you do still need to exercise care using this if you suffer from kidney disease. Like all herbal remedies, it is better to err on the side of caution - you should not use any herbal remedy continuously for an extended period of time. You may take the remedy daily for a week at a time at most, and then give it a break for at least a week before continuing again.
I have found that it is better to use nasturtiums over short periods when you need an antibiotic boost. Other than that, include a few of the leaves or flowers in a salad to boost flavor.
Nasturtiums in the Garden
Do you have nasturtiums in your garden?
Colorful and Bold Colors
Grow your own Nasturtiums
Nasturtiums are very easy to grow. They thrive in poor soil so don't use a lot of compost when planting them. They can grow just about anywhere as long as they are in full sun.
I had a very rocky patch of ground in my garden - I think it's where the builders dumped the rubble when they built the house - and nothing would grow there. I planted some yarrow to help condition the soil and edged the patch with nasturtiums. It is now lovely and green.
In Warmer Climates
In the warmer parts of the world, nasturtiums can be grown year-round.
They tend to self-seed and, if conditions are right, they'll take over. They form a small leafy bush that creeps along the ground and provides great ground cover.
Where it is Colder
They are frost tender and so will die down completely in winter in colder areas. Not to worry though, in spring they will come up again in full force.
Try growing different colours and varieties - they will cross-pollinate and you may get some interesting results.
I've even had little plants coming up all over the compost heap - they made a really good show there and covered it beautifully. Paradoxically, the compost heap gets very little sun so it just goes to show how hardy these little guys can be.
Nasturtiums come in a lot of different colours and there are also now varieties that have a variegated leaf - these are extremely pretty and very rewarding for the home gardener.
Make a Stunning Feature
Collect a few tin cans and drill holes into the bottom of them. Put a layer of stones at the bottom to aid drainage and add some soil. Plant a different colour plant in each "pot". Line up against a sunny wall and wait for the profusion of flowers.
Pretty as a Picture
Where Nasturtiums Came From
My brother battled with pronunciation when he was little and so he always said, "Nasty 'ems." To this day we tease him about his "Nasty 'ems" and chicken pox plant.
The Beauty Benefits of Nasturtiums
The high Vitamin C content in the leaves make these potent little plants great for you overall health and well-being. Eating a couple of leaves a day is said to help clear up acne.
The ancients used to use it as a hair tonic and scientific research actually backs this up - Nasturtium tea applied to the head stimulates the capillaries and so increases circulation and the flow of nutrients to the scalp.
The tea can also be used in place of a toner for oily skin.
Make your Own Nasturtium Tea
Place one cup of flowers and/ or buds in a liter of water in a pot. Cover and allow to simmer for 15 minutes. Strain and store in the refrigerator.
For hair growth, massage into scalp before rinsing hair. Try using daily.
For skin care, apply using a cotton ball and then rinse off with warm water.
An Ultra-Effective Hair Treatment
This is a bit more effort but makes is great for the hair. Mix one cup each of nettle, nasturtium and rosemary into two liters of water. Simmer in a closed pot for 15 minutes. Allow it to cool and then strain for use. Massage into your scalp before rinsing out. You can toss the used leaves into the compost heap so nothing goes to waste at all.
Refrigerate any leftovers.
They Are Pretty in the Garden
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Nasturtiums in the Garden
Nasturtiums act as a wonderful ground cover and can shade the roots of plants that tend to be more sensitive to the hot sun. The nasturtium plant stays quite low to the ground and so can also add interest to your garden.
I always make sure that I plant a few of the seeds in my compost heap - this turns a somewhat ugly heap into a much prettier show. (The leaves look lovely and lush - there aren't as many flowers though.)
Nasturtiums can be quite useful when it comes to acting as a trap crop. Plant them around your veggie patch to lure insects away from your vegetables.
A Truly Sunny Flower
The leaves make a great substitute for rocket in a salad. Pick as close to the time needed as possible and rinse before adding to the salad.
The flowers are great for adding color to salads and decorating food. Freeze into ice cubes to create a pretty addition for summery drinks.
The seeds can be pickled in vinegar to use as a great substitute for capers. Store for at least 3 weeks before using to allow the flavors to develop fully.
Check Out This Great Video by Jonathan Wallace on How to Pickle Nasturtium Seeds
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Questions & Answers
will my potted nasturtium flower next year?
It depends on whether or not it is in the right spot. As long as it is getting lots of sunlight, it should. Also, don't be too heavy with the nutrients in the soil. Too much nutrition will make it grow lovely, lush leaves but it will end up having fewer flowers. Good luck.
© 2011 Fiona