Nasturtium (tropaeolum majus)

A popular garden flower, the nasturtium bears large, boldly colored blooms and rounded leaves on trailing stems. Its common name comes from the Latin for “twisted nose,” a reference to the herb’s pungent scent. Originating in the Andes Mountains of South America, nasturtiums were brought from Peru to Spain by the Spanish conquistadors during the 16th century, and their reputation as a culinary herb gradually spread across the continent. The plant was not grown in North America until the 18th century, when it was introduced by European settlers.


Plant profile

Common Name: Nasturtium

Description: Mounding types up to 12 inches tall, trailing types up to 6 feet long; large, funnel-shaped blossoms of red, orange, or yellow; rounded leaves with prominent veins; aromatic

Hardiness: Annual

Family: Tropaeolaceae

Flowering: Through summer until frost

Parts Used: Flowers, leaves, and seeds

Range/Habitat: Native to the Andes Mountains of South America

Culinary use

Nasturtium leaves and flowers have a peppery flavor, reminiscent of radish. Add them to salads, sandwiches, or butters, or float the flowers in soup or punch. The young seedpods can be pickled and substituted for imported capers.

Medicinal use

Nasturtium has disinfectant and antibacterial properties due to the presence of mustard oil compounds. The seeds were traditionally used as a poultice to treat sores and boils, and a drink made from the whole plant was taken to help rid the body of toxins and to treat urinary conditions. Some herbalists recommend a hair tonic of nasturtium leaf and rosemary extract to slow hair loss.

Caution: While nasturtium flowers and leaves are rich sources of vitamin C, there have been reports of toxicity associated with overconsumption of this species.

Ornamental use

These brightly colored, long-blooming annuals are a favorite of gardeners, hummingbirds, and butterflies. Use the compact varieties in mixed borders and rock gardens. The trailing types are perfect for containers, window boxes, hanging baskets, walls, or banks — anywhere the stems can spill casually over the sides.

How to grow it

Nasturtiums grow best in full sun and well-drained, moist soil. They are easy to grow from seed, either sown directly in the garden in spring or started indoors in late winter and then transplanted to the garden when the soil warms. Space the seedlings 6 to 9 inches apart. To grow nasturtiums in a container, use a coarse, porous medium that is not overly rich. Keep the container in full sun and water when the soil feels dry beneath the surface. Harvest the young leaves and flowers as needed. Propagate by gathering the ripe seeds late in the season.