Grow Nasturtium & Eat’m Too!March 27, 2015
Grow nasturtium, and you’ll be cultivating a multipurpose beauty!
We always had fluffy mounds of annual, orange, yellow and red nasturtiums gracing the edges of our enormous food garden on the farm. We plucked their generous blooms to decorate dinner salads, and their abundant leaves helped fill our bowls as well.
We grossed out when the plants were attacked by rapidly multiplying black aphids, but we were always glad these fast-to-regenerate plants were the pest’s favored destination – rather than some of our nearby storage crops like squash, tomatoes and beans. And, we were always thrilled when tiny hummingbirds would dart from bloom to aphid to bloom. This is one plant that served many purposes on our little homestead: pollinator forage, pest lure, eye candy, and food for us.
The annual nasturtiums we grew then (& the perennials we grow now):
On our farm, we grew Tropaeolum majus – the non-native, but quite common garden nasturtium. In spring, we would sow seeds deeply in the earth and throughout summer the generous plants would trail, mound and sometimes vine in the garden. It fed us, helped with pest control, and looked plain lovely. But, come the chill of Virginia and NorCal autumns, the plants would crash to the ground, permanently. If they had shed seed, new progeny might arise in the following spring, but following a frost all T. majus plants were dead for the season. That’s an annual for you.
This early spring, I’ve already sown a crop for the growing season ahead. If you haven’t planted any, grab some from our store and start sowing these useful annuals soon. (And read-on to learn about another nasturtium you just gotta grow!) Purchases through the following affiliate links pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors. Thank you for buying and helping support us!
Thanks to my friend Jessi Bloom (author of Free Range Chicken Gardens and Practical Permaculture), I learned about a gorgeous perennial Tropaeolum to cultivate in our Pacific NW garden. She handed me a shriveled old tuber from her fridge one winter day a few years ago and said, “Grow this.” And, I did. What came from that sad looking root was an amazing nasturtium that continues to thrive as a multipurpose perennial in our garden today: Tropaeolum tuberosum, mashua or perennial nasturtium is its name.
What Mashua has to offer & how to grow this nasturtium & where to buy tubers:
Andean native mashua offers a few special features not found in its annual cousin. While annual nasturtiums may climb a little bit, Mashua climbs a lot, making for a beautiful seasonal privacy screen. Too, this means its unique, tubular, orange-red flowers open high on its twining stems — inviting hummingbirds to sip from them at safe distances from prowling domestic cats trolling the garden below. Mashua flowers open late in our growing season — usually in October or even November in the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, if a frost hits in October, this perennial may melt to the earth before blooming.
But, the good news is, it doesn’t die completely. Instead, T. tuberosum has saying power through its carbohydrate-rich tubers, from which the plants will arise in the following spring — assuming you don’t eat them all.
Yep – the roots of Mashua are edible. These starchy tubers impart a unique taste to soups and stews. Like the edible leaves of nasturtium, the Mashua roots are somewhat peppery and floral, and they will most certainly infuse your dish with that flavor. Some consider it a delicacy, but not everyone is a fan.
In our zone 7ish garden, we have T. tuberosum growing at the top of a sunny retaining wall and in containers. They drape down the walls and containers, clothing them in edible goodness from late spring until the first frost of fall. We keep a few pots going in the passive greenhouse, training the early vines upwards early in the growing season. This way, when we set the pots out in the garden, they rapidly fill in privacy trellises and branches of evergreens for the season. Too, we have enclosed beds dedicated to perennial root crops including mashua and sunchoke, which compliment each other beautifully.
In autumn, after the foliage melts to the ground following the first light frost, we harvest many of the container-grown tubers for our cellar. The rest we leave in the soil to naturalize — both in the garden beds and containers — and emerge again the following season. For some, this plant may spread too rapidly in the soil, but in our garden it is a welcome addition that holds its own against other aggressive bed spreaders like alstromeria and daylily.
To start Mashua in your garden, one or two tubers should be enough to get your crop going. Many small nurseries will offer tubers in spring, and Raintree Nursery offers them for sale online. (They also share that Mashua may help repel other pests including unwanted soil nematodes – bonus!)