Nasturtium History and Origins
The nasturtium varieties we encounter today are descended from 2 species. The first was introduced to the Americas by Spanish conquistadors in the late 15th century. The second was introduced by the Dutch in the 17th century. Both varieties were long, trailing plants. Starting in the 19th century, breeders have produced more compact varieties for use in containers and planters as an ornamental.
Today, Nasturtiums are grown both for their beauty and as a food source. Rich in Vitamin C and antioxidants, Ancient Europeans and the Inca knew the applications for this plant and used it much like salad. They also used it as a medicinal herb. Thomas Jefferson is reported to have been growing this for similar use from 1774 onward as well.
Nasturtium Growing Conditions
Zones: 3 through 10
Sunlight: Full Sun to Part Shade
Bloom Time: Late Spring, Early Summer, Early Fall. It will flower in mild-summer regions, but go dormant during intense heat and humidity.
Soil Conditions: Not fussy about the soil type and does not like to be fertilized.
There are a plethora of varieties on the market today. Some are more compact, perfect for growing in containers and some are more vining or trailing. They also come in a wide assortment of colors that variate from light yellow/white to very deep reds. Foliage can also be grass green, deep green or variegated such as in the Alaska Mix variety.
How to Grow Nasturtiums
Nasturtiums grow very well from seed with a little prepping. You can choose to start your seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before your last frost date or direct sow outside after your last heavy frost.
- Nick the hard seed with a nail file.
- Soak the seeds overnight in room temperate water.
- Plant seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep.
- Space seeds 5 to 10 inches apart.
- Germination takes 1 to 2 weeks.
- Keep seedlings moist until established.
You can use these care-free plants in hanging baskets or planters. Their trailing habit looks great planted as a base for taller plants. They also look great at the front of a planting bed or framing a walkway, so that visitors can admire them as they walk by. Interplant other trailing plants to fill in the gaps during the intense heat of summer. Once the heat subsides, Nasturtiums will again start to bloom. You can trim them mid-summer to remove any dead leaves for a tidier look. In the fall, they will start to go to seed. You can collect the seeds, save them over the winter and replant them in the spring, which will save you money!
The name, Nasturtium, comes from the Latin words Nas (Nose) and Tortum (twist) as an allusion to their pungent, spicy flavor. Related to watercress and mustard, Nasturtium adds a great spiciness to salads. You can use both the leaves and the flowers in a fresh salad. The flowers can also be used similarly to the flowers of squash blossoms, stuffed with cream cheese and eaten raw or battered and fried. The flowers can also be used steeped in tea. The leaves can be used chopped into an infused butter, which tastes great on chicken and fish.
Did You know?
- Louis the XIV had Nasturtiums growing as an ornamental in his palace gardens.
- In the 16th and 17th centuries, people used the trailing habit of this plant to grow decoratively around doorways, arbors, and pergolas.
Questions & Answers
Question: Can a vine that broke off be started to grow another Nasturtiums plant?
Answer: Yes. I would take that piece in the house and try to root it in water, then plant it out once it has formed some roots.
© 2015 Lisa Roppolo
Lisa Roppolo (author) from Joliet, IL on January 08, 2015:
Thank you! I try to put them anywhere I can. I even grew them in one of my veggie beds one summer!
Claudia Mitchell on January 08, 2015:
I bet you have a lovely garden Lisa. Another pretty hub with useful information. I like throwing in some nasturtiums seeds, they make a nice filler as long as the bunnies and chipmunks don't get them.