The Various Health Benefits and Uses of Nasturtiums

Updated on January 21, 2018
Fiona Jean Mckay profile image

Fiona is a qualified herbalist and aromatherapist. She has twenty years' experience in the field and wants to share that knowledge.

See What Nasturtiums Look Like

Tropaeolum Majus

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?

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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

Nasty 'Ems

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

What have you Learned about Nasturtiums?

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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.)

Companion Planting

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

Culinary Benefits

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

© 2011 Fiona

What are your Thoughts on Nasturtiums?

Submit a Comment

  • Fiona Jean Mckay profile image

    Fiona 20 months ago from South Africa

    Hi Sydney,

    I was listing what it was used for in ancient times - in Meso-America, it was used for kidney complaints. Today, however, it's main value is as a natural antibiotic and a way to boost Vitamin C intake.

    It is never a good idea for anyone to take any herbal remedy continuously for an extended period because there is a risk of toxic buildup depending on which herb is used. It is never advisable to use a herbal remedy for longer than about a week to two weeks at a time without a break.

    This is particularly true when it comes to people with kidney disease. Thanks for pointing that out - I have amended the article accordingly.

  • SydneySilver profile image

    Sydney Silver 20 months ago from Los Angeles

    Hi thanks for the article :)

    U say they were used for kidneys but all over the net I see if u have kidney disease you shouldn't use nasturtium? Do u know which one it is? Thanks!!

  • Fiona Jean Mckay profile image

    Fiona 21 months ago from South Africa

    Hi Lachlan, yes, they are very hardy little plants. I also love putting the flowers in the salad to brighten it up.

  • Lachlan Turner profile image

    Lachlan Turner 21 months ago

    I have my Nasturtiums in a corner of the garden that gets virtually no direct winter sun(I live in Australia and have a mediterranean temperate climate) and the plant is there virtually all year. Died last Summer from the heat but has come back through reseeding. When ever I run out of lettuce or have no spinach for sandwiches I pick a few leaves and use them. Also great as a beneficial insect attractor. Very useful and pretty plant.

  • 2besure profile image

    Pamela Lipscomb 3 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

    It's great to see we are getting back to natural ways of healing and eating. Great for hon Nasturtiums!

  • Fiona Jean Mckay profile image

    Fiona 4 years ago from South Africa

    Thanks Loveofnight - it is worth a look.

  • loveofnight profile image

    loveofnight 4 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

    i will be on the look out for this plant, thanks for the share.

  • Fiona Jean Mckay profile image

    Fiona 4 years ago from South Africa

    Hi Sweetie-Pie, well rather hang on with the planting until spring then but do try them, they are a really cute little plant

  • SweetiePie profile image

    SweetiePie 4 years ago from Southern California, USA

    I used to love picking Nasturtiums out of my mom's garden, and eating these in salads at a kid. I might have to try to grow some myself, although it is slightly the dormant season for plants being winter here.

  • Fiona Jean Mckay profile image

    Fiona 4 years ago from South Africa

    Hi Poetryman, normally I would agree with you but, when it comes to herbs that I know, I am a little more flexible.

  • poetryman6969 profile image

    poetryman6969 4 years ago

    I am a little reluctant to eat flowers from my garden. But an interesting idea.

  • Fiona Jean Mckay profile image

    Fiona 4 years ago from South Africa

    Thanks PS, like the angels bit. If you get the chance give them a try - they taste a lot like rocket.

  • pstraubie48 profile image

    Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

    Hi I had NO idea ....I adore them but did not realize they had healthful properties as well. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Angels are on the way to you and yours this morning ps

  • Fiona Jean Mckay profile image

    Fiona 4 years ago from South Africa

    Thanks Jeanetter

  • profile image

    jeanetter 4 years ago

    Love the article - voted up!

  • tammyswallow profile image

    Tammy 4 years ago from North Carolina

    I love learning about other parts of the world. These look beautiful. Welcome to Hubpages!

  • Enlydia Listener profile image

    Enlydia Listener 6 years ago from trailer in the country

    I love is one of the first plants I grew as a child, so it is a nice memory. The orange color is so refreshing.

  • Elenin profile image

    Elenin 6 years ago from So Cal

    Great article. I have allowed Nasturtiums to grow because I liked their blooms and hoped that they would attract bug eating birds. I was totally unaware of any health benefits. I am starting to get a cold so I tried your remedy. Not bad, might well use these in a stir fry in the future.

    It appears that your section about “Where Nasturtiums Came From” did not make it on the Hub, FYI.

    Thanks for a useful Hub and the reminder to look at all that Nature offers.

  • Pollyannalana profile image

    Pollyannalana 6 years ago from US

    This is very good, voted up. Many here love all they can find out about herbs.

    Welcome to hub pages!