How to grow nasturtiums good enough for Aubergine restaurant in Canberra

Owen Pidgeon
Nasturtiums can help whet the appetite with summer salads.
Nasturtiums can help whet the appetite with summer salads. Photo: Getty Images

As well as potatoes and tomatoes, the flowering nasturtiums came originally from South America. And they too have spread across the globe. I dream of one day visiting the lands of Peru and Bolivia. The exhibition on the Inca Gold, staged by the National Art Gallery a couple of years ago, demonstrated that empires of past eras were as amazing as the ancient empires of Greece and Rome.

The flowers, leaves and seeds can all be eaten. They have a spicy, peppery taste. The leaves in a salad provide a tangy, watercress like flavour. Nasturtiums provide high levels of vitamins for the diet, including a rating for vitamin C some 10 times higher than you will gain from eating lettuce.

The flowers can be stuffed and served on dry biscuits or Melba toast. Fill the flowers with a soft cheese or a savoury dip and fold the petals over the stuffing. You could add celery sticks or slices of cucumber to the serving plate to complement the flowers. Nasturtium flowers can also be added into stir fry dishes.

The immature nasturtium seed can be harvested and pickled. Harvest while the pods are still green and place them in briny water for two days, changing the water daily. Then wash out the salt and bottle, covering with hot vinegar with added sugar or spices and seal. These are a good substitute for capers, though in some countries they are referred to only as "the poor man's capers".

Nasturtiums belong to the family of plants with the Latin name tropaeolum ('trophy'). It is easy to see how the name came to be. The Roman legions had a tradition of hanging the shields and helmets of their defeated foes on a pole or tree trunk after battle. The round, shiny green leaves look so much like shields and the flowers look like the blood-stained helmets of a defeated army. Today, the flowers still have such beauty that they enhance any or the appearance of any salad.

I recently received a gift of some coconut fibre seed-raising plugs from the organic seed supplier Green Harvest, after I made a quantity purchase of vegetable seeds. I pondered as to how to use the plugs but then realised that they would be ideal for raising a new batch of nasturtium plants. Nasturtium seeds are similar in size to small pea seeds, so just press one into each fibre pod and soak with water. The plants will begin to grow very quickly and the roots will penetrate the fibres. You can then plant the little seedlings into hanging baskets or into patio pots, or simply along the edge of your kitchen garden bed.

Nasturtiums are one of those wonderful plants that grow better in poor soils. They need to have good drainage and they definitely need full sunlight. If you plant into a rich, nutrient-filled garden bed you will produce a very healthy and leafy plant but not have many flowers. The goal is to have an abundance of flowers and leaves over the summer months.

You will find that many restaurants are very interested in finding a local supply of fresh edible flowers. If you are successful with growing a whole border of nasturtiums, why not speak to the chef of your neighbourhood restaurant about providing a twice-weekly supply of leaves and flowers – there is nothing better than fresh, local supplies for even the top restaurants in town.

Nasturtiums and other edible flowers are delicious in salads.

Nasturtiums and other edible flowers are delicious in salads. Photo: Getty Images

I find the nasturtium "jewel mix" provides a wonderful array of colours, from yellow and orange to salmon and deep red. Nasturtium plants will flower for a long period, if kept well-watered, so try and enjoy their company and their taste this summer.

Nasturtium omelette

4 free range eggs
50ml milk
4 nasturtium seeds, crushed
2 cloves garlic, crushed
6 young nasturtium leaves
10 small nasturtium petals
30g butter
50g parmesan cheese, grated
salt and black pepper

Break the eggs into a mixing bowl and add in the milk. Beat well and add in the crushed nasturtium seeds and the crushed garlic. Grease the frying pan and pour in the mixture. Season with salt and pepper and add in the petals and shredded leaves and cook. Sprinkle the grated parmesan cheese on top and serve.

This week in the garden

* Plant a row of rocket, some mixed open leaf lettuces, radishes and mizuna​ for summer salads.

* Plant parsley, coriander and chives directly into your herb beds.

* Plant out quick growing bush beans and cucumbers and beetroot directly into garden beds which have good quantities of compost already mixed in.

* Sow pumpkin, rockmelon and small watermelon seeds directly into prepared round mounds containing lots of compost, to give them to full summertime to grow and produce a mature crop.

* Plant out your tomato, capsicum, chilli and eggplant seedlings into fresh garden beds, leaving 40cm between plants. Stake when you plant to avoid damaging roots later on. Plant some basil seedlings alongside your tomato plants. Cover if low overnight temperatures are forecast.

Regularly check for slugs among your strawberries and soft-leafed vegetables. Remove by hand or sprinkle with salt to kill. Mulching strawberries with pine needles is a good, natural way to provide a deterrence for slugs.

* Actively compost all your vegetable scraps, weedings (apart from couch grass) and grass clippings to provide you with ongoing supplies of the amazing, natural soil enhancer.

* Plant rows of cos and salad bowl lettuce, snow peas, bush and climbing beans.

* As well as planting out pumpkins, plant a selection of zucchinis and button squash in rows with plenty of compost dug into the garden bed.

* Mulch all new garden beds with sugar cane or pea straw mulch or broken lucerne hay to keep down weeds, assist with retaining moisture and cooling the soil.

* Check again your fruit trees for overladen branches; remove excess fruit to achieve quality results.

Owen Pidgeon runs the Loriendale Organic Orchard near Hall.