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How to use Nasturtiums in the Kitchen Garden

Nasturtiums are at the heart of our summer kitchen garden. These versatile annuals have large seeds that are easy for children to sow and fabulous flowers ranging from soft creams to jewel-like reds and burnt oranges.

March and April are ideal times to sow nasturtium seeds, either in pots on a sunny windowsill so kids can watch the three-pointed seed leaves unfurl or in situ in beds and borders. We grow ‘Milkmaid’ at the sunny side of the raised vegetable beds where its creamy yellow flowers trail over the edges, ‘Cream Troika’ in hanging baskets and the kids are sowing Mr Small’s ‘Whirlybird Mixed’ in pots. All our nasturtiums should flower continuously from 10-12 weeks after sowing until well into October.

We are also intending to underplant the fruit bushes with ‘Alaska’ this year, using the variegated foliage to suppress weeds and the flowers to add vibrant colour to the fruit cage over the summer. Nasturtiums readily self-seed so you may not need to sow each year and unwanted seedlings can easily be removed or transplanted to a more suitable location. All nasturtiums prefer well drained, less fertile soils so avoid adding fertilisers or the plants will produce leaves at the expense of flowers.

As well as acting as a decoy for blackfly and white butterfly caterpillars, hopefully saving the beans and brassicas from being devoured, nasturtiums also attract pollinating insects (especially bees) to the garden to feed on the pollen and nectar. Every part of the plant is edible from the spicy leaves to the vibrant petals and seed pods. The kids love to take their plates into the garden in the summer and pick edible flowers to add to meals – nasturtiums are their favourites as their petals jazz up any salad plate and add that peppery kick too.

As the flowers fade, the seed pods offer a bounty to pickle for autumn and winter meals. The pickle recipe is so simple:

  • gather the pods as soon as the flowers fall and rinse thoroughly
  • soak around a cup of seed pods in a brine solution (eg. 1 tbsp salt dissolved in enough water to cover the pods) for 24 hours
  • rinse seed pods and spoon into a sterilised jar
  • add your herbs/spices of choice to the jar (we simply use a bay leaf, but you can add thyme, coriander, peppercorns or whatever else takes your fancy)
  • dissolve a tsp of sugar into enough white wine vinegar to cover the pods over a moderate heat
  • pour the hot vinegar solution into the jar
  • allow to cool to room temperature and seal the jar
  • seed pods are ready to eat after 3 weeks and can be kept in the fridge for up to 6 months

We enjoy nasturtium capers on pizza (a favourite with the kids); we add them to salad dressings and they are delicious mixed with mayonnaise as a tartar sauce with fish. Not only that, a couple of jars lasts us well into the following spring. In modern small gardens where plants need to tick several boxes to earn their place, nasturtiums score highly on the multi-purpose scale. They are ornamental, edible and wildlife-friendly – perfect for a family kitchen garden in every way!

Nic Wilson is a writer, garden designer and Garden Media Guild Awards nominee (Best Blog, 2018). She enjoys growing unusual fruit, vegetables and herbs, and loves to encourage nature into the garden. She also blogs at www.dogwooddays.net