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Friday, November 19, 2010

Nasturtium

I see you are one of those people who wants to have your flowers and eat them too. You’ve had the sugared Violets on your birthday cake, the tiny purple flowers of Borage sprinkled into a salad  and the gingered Pansies adorning pastries of distinction.  But you’ve seen nothing yet until you see the dilly of a flower I have for you. No, not dill, you silly. I’m talking about Nasturtium. 

Nasturtium, also known by the common name Indian Cress, has funnel shaped flowers in single, semi-double and double forms much desired by hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. Oh, yeah, and gardeners too. The foliage is bright green, roundish with visible veining. Many mornings you can catch dew puddled in the center of the leaves. What a pretty sight that is! A photographer’s perfect subject.

Every part of this pretty plant is edible though why you would want to is beyond me. It’s too pretty to be plucking away at it. But the good thing about Nasturtium is its prolific flowering habit. You’ll never run out of flowers for your wonderful culinary creations. The one thing I don’t much like about Nasturtium is the habit it has of hiding the flowers under all those leaves. But that’s nothing for those who want to use them in cooking. Just pluck away the leaves and eat those so you can see the pretty blossoms. The best of both worlds.

Nasturtium comes in vibrant colors of orange, yellow, red and softer pastels like cream, peach and apricot. There are lovely bi-colors like the cultivar “Strawberries and Cream” and “Caribbean Cocktail”. The “Alaska” cultivars have variegated leaves with cream colored splotches. All are stunning in the flower bed or herb garden. I suppose anything edible should be in the herb or kitchen garden and Nasturtium is no exception. It has a peppery taste, a bit spicy to the tip of the tongue. It’s great for fresh garden salads, as a garnish, sprinkled on soup or onto anything on which you would use that black pepper shaker. It’s this peppery scent and taste that gives it its name which in Latin means “Nose twister”. Funny, huh?

Nasturtium, botanically  Tropaeolum majus, is grown as an annual in almost all regions of the earth except their native land in the Andes Mountains of South America. It grows as a perennial there and therefore prefers things on the cool side. Hot humid summers it does not like so plant accordingly if you garden in such areas. It might bloom straight through the winter in tropical places. Lucky you! But for us northerners it continuously blooms from late spring or early summer  until the first frost. It thrives in any regular garden soil and on neglect. Yes, you got that right. It is virtually carefree. What could be better?

I’ll tell you what could be better. Nasturtium comes in dwarf varieties which form 8-15 inch tall mounds, depending on cultivar, perfect for bedding, hanging baskets and containers. But it also comes  in climbing cultivars, like “Jewel Of Africa” some getting as high as 8 feet. These look awesome cascading gracefully out of window boxes, over garden walls or even used as a ground cover. Talk about versatile! You may have to help them on their way up a fence or trellis. They don’t have tendrils to cling, just their leaves to sort of hook onto string or wire.

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