Plant This: Nasturtium for Pest Control and Edible Beauty
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) is an excellent choice for small-space gardeners who want to make a limited area really work for them: it’s edible, attractive, grows well vertically and in containers, and will help rid your garden of certain pests. It is an irrepressible, flowering vine — annual here in the Northeast US, so I can’t even imagine having too much of it, but apparently it will self-sow readily in warmer areas — with distinctively saucer-shaped foliage and summertime blossoms that are typically red, orange, or yellow.
Nasturtium has been observed to repel whiteflies, squash bugs, and striped pumpkin beetles, so it’s an excellent companion plant for these, in addition to radishes and cabbages. Writing from personal experience, the summer I planted nasturtium around a small vegetable plot, I had far fewer whiteflies to contend with than in the previous summer. Not exactly scientific, but more fun and gorgeous than a pesticide spray. And, if you’d like to single-handedly thin the neighborhood aphid population, then nasturtium might work for you: It has been observed to act as a trap plant for aphids, who eat them and die off. I have grown nasturtium without noticing this, so I’m not sure how this is all supposed to go down, exactly, but it is recommended as a planting around fruit trees, and as a home-grown spray for them, for doing away with aphids.
Growing a healthy nasturtium requires no more than average soil and a sunny spot. In shade, the vine will grow, but might not flower as much.
Its edible flowers have a peppery zing that’s an interesting element in a salad or sandwich, I think. A few suggestions:
Use in salads and as a garnish, or in sandwiches. Add minced fresh flowers to butter.
Eat as is, or pickle them: Wash the seeds, boil up some cider vinegar, add enough to the seeds to completely cover them, and keep stored in a sealed jar.
Pickle as you would the seeds.