Nasturtiums, one of my Granny Madge's favorite plants!
Colorful Nasturtium Flower
A bright yellow Nasturtium
My Granny Madge and her special plants.
This attractive plant with colorful flowers was a must in my Granny’s various gardens. Wherever we moved to, after inspecting the garden, Granny Madge would say something about the nasturtiums and proceed to work on them when they were already there, or to plant some when the garden was without. They were not the most beautiful flowers to be seen in our gardens, but apparently they were some of the most useful ones. They certainly provided a lot of color!
It was no surprise for the rest of my family members to discover that as usual, Granny Madge was right about the need for the Nasturtium plants in our garden! At the end of this article, I will describe how we used this plant immediately after the 1960 earthquakes that hit my hometown, Concepcion. They were not as vital to our well being as our Camellia tree turned out to be, but they were certainly important and useful.
Description of the Nasturtium.
The plants grow easily and abundantly from seeds, which can be bought in packets from any provider, or if the plants are already established, they will seed themselves. If placed in containers, they will tumble over the edges in a spontaneous cascade.
There are three main types of nasturtiums:
· Dwarf, which are bushy and compact, and include the glorious “Empress of India” with a deep red flower.
· Semi-trailing, reaching a length of about two to three feet.
· Climbing, which send out runners that can be six to eight foot long, and which like to climb trellises.
All types of Nasturtiums like relatively poor soils, but need humidity and sun. They are not frost resistant, but will pop up again in the following season. The poorer the soil, the more flowers the plants will produce.
The plants that we normally use in our gardens descend mainly from the original species that grew in the Peruvian Andes. The Incas had several practical uses for the Nasturtium plant, both as a medicinal herb and as an edible plant. The seeds were taken to Europe by the Spanish conquistadores, at the end of the 15th century and at the beginning of the 16th century, and its use quickly spread throughout Europe.
Over the years, several cultivars have been produced, that have introduced varieties whose plants do not sprawl so much, being more compact in shape. The variety of colors has also increased, turning the Nasturtium into an ornamental landscaping plant.
However, as a plant of more ornamental value, the Nasturtium has not lost its other characteristics that make it such an interesting plant.
Nasturtiums as ground cover
A Nasturtium Salad
A Mixed salad bowl
Some practical uses of the Nasturtiums
· In gardens, they can be used as a ground cover, giving the garden an old fashioned cottage look. They can also be a “filler” plant in tricky areas, like steep banks. We liked to put the plants at the inner edge of stone or brick parapets, so that they would cascade over and cover these structures.
- They are much used as a living mulch, which will help to avoid weeds, drying out and erosion.
- They make good “companion” plants for tomatoes, radishes, cabbages and cucumbers, as they deter aphids and pest of the cucurbits. For this same reason, they can be planted under fruit trees.
· The leaves and flowers are edible, with a sharp, tangy, peppery taste that combines very well with bland tasting salads such as some types of lettuce.
· Flowers are great accents in salads due to the bright colors. and they can also be used to infuse vinegar, or vodka.
· The Andean peoples use the Nasturtium as a disinfectant and also as a wound healing herb. Therefore, the medicinal properties of this plant have been known for many centuries.
· The leaves are antibacterial, aiding immunity against bacterial infections. They can ease colds, bronchitis and sore throats, due to the fact that they act as a natural antibiotic. They are also very rich in vitamin C., and make a good expectorant for phlegm.
· Externally, the leaves can be used as a treatment for baldness, minor injuries and skin eruptions. They are also very useful for easing dry, flaky skin.
· The green seed pods make a good substitute for capers.
· The seed, used in this fashion, receive several different names: Nasturtium capers – false capers – poor man’s capers – California capers.
Real capers are expensive
The real capers can be bought in specialized stores, but they are very expensive. This is the reason for the search for a cheaper substitute, which fortunately can be provided by the Nasturtium seed pods, an alternative we can all enjoy!
One of Granny Madge's recipes for false capers.
My Granny's favorite recipe is as follows:
2 tablespoons salt – 1 cup water – ½ cup nasturtium seedpods, picked when still green and tender, - ¾ cup white wine vinegar – 2 teaspoons sugar -1 dried bay leaf – 2 sprigs fresh thyme.
Heat the water and salt in a saucepan, until the water starts to boil. Put the seedpods in a glass jar and pour the boiling brine over them. Cover and let them soak for three days, at room temperature.
Drain the pods. Bring the rest of the ingredients to a boil. Pour over the seedpods and let cool. Cover the jar and refrigerate for three days before using. If covered in vinegar, they can keep in the refrigerator for about six months.
The pods need to be picked over so as to remove any segments of the flowers.
The brine should be changed, and the pods washed out while soaking in the brine, to remove the strong sulphur smell that they will send out.
These false capers are usually used in salads, and in vegetable and fish dishes. They are delicious!
Collecting drops of water with a Nasturtium leaf
The events of 1960: The earthquakes hit us badly!
As if all the above was not enough to raise our interest in growing Nasturtiums, these plants can help out in the most extraordinary circumstances!
I have already written about some of our adventures and difficulties during the catastrophic earthquakes of May 1960. At that time, we had a big and varied garden, a product of Granny Madge’s best efforts. Of course, there was a whole array of Nasturtiums growing on the flower beds and hanging over the stone parapets. As already stated in the previous article, we were without water, electricity and gas, for several days.
The first service to come back was the light, but the water and the gas took a little longer, due to the fact that the underground pipes for these services were in a chaotic state due to the fault in the ground outside our house. In fact, the potable water was running into the gas pipes!
We were using sea water for the sanitary installations, and for as much else as we could, as my father was loading big drums of salty water onto one of our trucks and bringing them from the beach to our house, where we laboriously dumped the water by the bucketful, over the windowsill into the bathtub that conveniently was installed right under the window!
We washed ourselves as sparingly as possible, and our hands and faces were getting all dry and itchy with the lack of good water. But Granny Madge solved that problem by showing us how to pick flat Nasturtium leaves in the early morning, when they were still wet and fresh, and use them to rub over our faces and hands. Oh, but it felt wonderfully fresh and cleansing! As far as I was concerned, that saved the day!
We also chewed the Nasturtium leaves, to help prevent infection due to all the dust and dirt that was flying around due to the constant after-shakes, and that felt really good too. We knew we were consuming vitamin C by the dose-full, and nobody came down with a cold or a cough, so my Granny’s faith in her planting was confirmed on all sides!
Nature can provide such wonderful products!
© 2012 joanveronica (Joan Robertson)