The Nasturtium is an annual plant of amazing versatility which is well adapted to our mountain growing environment. The nasturtium comes in a variety of species, including dwarf, climbing, and spreading types. All produce attractive foliage and bright beautiful flowers. They come in a wide range of colors from the palest yellow through the color spectrum of yellows, oranges, and reds. They thrive with very little care and will bloom from early summer through frost. They may be planted directly into the ground or in containers where they spill over the sides and fill in spaces with lush foliage and blooms. Often the nasturtium begins to burst forth just as other container plants are giving up for the season. Dwarf varieties make good edging plants along walkways. They can enhance the poorest section of a rock garden. Nasturtium are drought tolerant, deer resistant, and they attract butterflies and hummingbirds! What more could you want?
While nasturtiums can be planted from seed directly into the soil, like most annuals, they do best in our short growing season when they are purchased as seedlings. The young plants are modestly priced and are readily available in local nurseries. Like all annuals, they should be planted only after all danger of frost is past; here in Routt County that date is usually mid-June. Nasturtiums like full sunshine, thrive in relatively dry soil, and they do not require fertilization or plant food. Over fertilization, in fact, will result in lots of leaves, but few blooms. Nasturtiums do not like to have "wet feet"; they like a well drained pot or flower bed. Weekly watering is usually adequate. The nasturtium will do best when neglected and allowed to grow on its own!
As long as they are not treated with pesticides, nasturtium leaves and flowers are entirely edible. They add a delightful peppery taste to many foods. Always wash nasturtium flowers carefully to assure they are free from any insects. Nasturtiums can used to make butters and vinegars. They can be added raw to salads or pasta dishes. They may also be stuffed with soft cheese and served as an hors d'oeuvre. Nasturtium seeds are also edible when they are picked young and green. The seeds have been likened to capers. Nasturtium flowers make lovely garnishes for meats, fish, or vegetable dishes. The leaves and petals of nasturtium are also nutritious. They contain vitamin C, iron, and antioxidants.
Try this nutritious one-bowl meal next time you entertain: Line a large salad bowl with greens of your choice. Add 1/2 cup diagonally-cut scallions. Top with 1 1/2 cups of cooked spinach linguine (linguine should be drained, sprinkled with oil to prevent sticking, and cooled). Top the linguine layer with cooked (and cooled) salmon pieces, cooked shrimp, and cooked scallops (about 1/2 cup of each). To finish off this seafood salad, add carefully washed nasturtium flowers attractively placed across the top of the salad. Serve with your favorite vinaigrette dressing.