Adaptable and remarkably versatile plants, edible nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) are one of the easiest annuals to grow. Their brightly colored flowers and leaves also make for tasty additions in the kitchen.
• Grow nasturtiums in any well-drained, slightly moist and average soil in full sun to light shade for continual flowers.
• Nasturtiums fend off garden pests from neighboring plants. Grow it near squash to repel cucumber beetles or any garden plants to repel aphids. Black aphids, however, do like nasturtiums. If black aphids become a problem, control with an organic soap spray.
• Dwarf varieties are ideal for smaller areas, grown in a planter box or container, or when used as a border plant to edge a flower bed or walkway. Use climbing types to cover fences and banks, or to trail in hanging baskets, over rocks or cascading down a wall.
• Both the leaves and flowers are edible; leaves are snappy with a peppery flavor, and the flowers are softly sweet with a subtle spiciness.
• Chopped leaves or flowers make for a zesty addition to mayonnaise, dips or spreads, and vinaigrettes.
• The leaves and flowers can be used to add a rainbow of color and spice to any salad.
• Stuff and roll leaves, then stuff blossoms with spinach salad, egg salad, tuna salad or chicken salad for a quick appetizer.
• Use whole or chopped blossoms as tasty, edible garnishes to decorate creamy soups, herbal butters, or quiches and tarts, as well as cakes and cupcakes.
• Add peppery flavor to stir-fries and soups by adding chopped leaves within the last five minutes of cooking time.
• Combine leaves with other greens to top off a sandwich or a pizza.
Kris Wetherbee is a contributing editor who lives in western Oregon.