Nasturtium – characteristics, cultivation and use

Nasturtium - flowers red
Nasturtium - flowers red

The nasturtium is a plant that grows in many places showing their sprouting tendrils and bright flowers in yellow, orange and red tones. Nasturtium can look more than just beautiful, it was named the medicinal plant of the year 2013, because the medicinally important ingredients of nasturtium have proven effective in investigations against bacteria, fungi and viruses.

Profile of nasturtium:

Scientific name: Tropaeolum majus

Plant family: nasturtium family

Other names: Indian cress, monks cress

Sowing time / Planting time: March – May

Flowering period: May – October

Harvest time: May – October

Location: sunny to partially shaded

Soil quality: moist and nutrient-rich soils

Use as a medicinal herb: influenza infections, urinary tract infections, bronchitis, muscle aches

Use as spice herb: salads, pure, as a caper substitute, cream cheese, quark

Plant characteristics and classification of nasturtium

Origin and distribution of nasturtium

The nasturtium came to Europe in the late 17th century. Before that, the plant was only known in some South American countries, including Chile, Mexico and Bolivia. It is believed that even the Incas have attributed great importance to the plant. From the beginning of the 17th century, the nasturtium, or more precisely the large nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus), has been cultivated in Europe. Today the plant is widespread in many countries of the world as ornamental and medicinal plant.

Plant order of nasturtium

In flora, nasturtium is a special feature. Nasturtiums belong to the nasturtium family (Tropaeolaceae) and consists of only one genus. If one follows the distant kinship, then they can be assigned to the order of the cruciferous ones. Nevertheless, the genus of Nasturtium is very rich in species. Today, about 90 species are known, of which the most famous is the Indian Cress (Tropaeolum majus). In South America, the mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum) still has a relatively high status as a food plant.

Look and characteristics of nasturtium


Nasturtium is a one-to-several-year-old plant, where nasturtium grows under the climatic conditions of the temperate zone, as in Europe or North America, it is only annual. The reason for the shortened longevity is partly due to the low temperatures in winter. Nasturtium does not tolerate frost and cold temperatures.

A characteristic is the pronounced growth in length. Some plants reach a height of up to three meters (10 feet). The tendrils of the nasturtium wind around many things, such as fences, trees, lattices or growth supports, e.g. for roses. On the other hand, there are varieties that are comparatively bushy and low-growing, but form an equally lush and compact foliage dress as climbing nasturtiums.


The leaves of nasturtium are about twice as large as the flowers with a diameter of 3 to 10 cm (1 to 4 inches). Striking, and thus easy for the determination of nasturtium, is the leaf shape. The leaves are almost round to slightly edged, from the center of the leaf, the leaf axes radiate and grow alternately on the tendril. Also characteristic is the leaf surface of nasturtium. When it rains raindrops drip off as on lotus flowers.

Scent and smell

The fragrance of the nasturtium reveals itself only when one cuts off flowers or leaves of the mother plant. The smell is intense “green”, slightly pungent. The situation is different with the taste of nasturtium. Both the flowers and the leaves are edible and taste savory-peppery and pleasantly spicy.


The color of the flowers varies between yellow, orange and red. Often, all colors can be found in a flower in the form of drawings or dabs together. The flower itself consists of five sepals, which are closely entwined at the bottom of the flower of five petals and facing a tapered spur. Viewed from the side, the flower (with a cap of flowers and spur) is reminiscent of a pointed cap known from the headdress of Capuchin monk. Because of this comparison, the name „monks cress“ or „Capuchin cress“ was born (it is used like this in many languages, e.g german (Kapuzinerkresse) and french (capucine)). The syllable cress, on the other hand, is due to its pungent taste. Cress comes from the Old High German vocabulary and is translated with spicy, peppery. The flowering period of the plant is usually between late May to early October. After flowering, the nasturtium forms hard capsule fruits.

Nasturtium - single orange blossom
Nasturtium – single orange blossom

Nasturtium – cultivation and care

Location and soil

The nasturtium is a fairly undemanding plant. The location for the best growth is sunny, although partial shade is tolerated. The soil should be rich in nutrients and slightly moist. Dry and too sandy soils should be avoided or at least improved with soil additives such as compost or bentonite.


The nasturtium is one of the dark germinators. At the end of May the seeds are sown in the field and carefully pressed about 2 cm (1 inch) into the soil. After only one week, at the latest after two weeks, the first cotyledons appear, which soon grow into an impressive climbing plant. Anyone who prefers nasturtium will start on the windowsill in March. For growing there, organic soil should be used.


You should not water the plant too much. Nevertheless, it should be ensured that the plants or the soil is always slightly moisturized. Too much water leads to unnecessary stress, which can cause the flower to be damaged. Waterlogging tolerates the nasturtium just as little as dryness.


Fertilizers are usually not necessary. If the nasturtium does not bear flowers, it could be due to over-fertilization. Normally, the nasturtium blooms very lush and persistent from late May to the first frost. If the plant has been planted in relatively nutrient-rich soil, there is no need for additional fertilization.

Diseases and pests

One problem, which affects many who grow nasturtium in the garden or on the balcony, are aphids. Hardly any other plant is so strongly and frequently attacked by black aphids as the nasturtium. However, this also means that neighboring plants are rarely or less attracted to aphids. You can stop the aphids with natural remedies such as liquid manure made of stinging nettle or beneficial insects such as lacewings and larvae of ladybirds. A secret tip against black aphids is kieselguhr, which can be applied with a thin layer of nasturtium. This can also be purchased in online shops.

More on Herbs as a miracle weapon against pests

Nasturtium - leaves
Nasturtium – leaves

Nasturtium and its use

Nasturtium in the kitchen

The taste of nasturtium is very intense and peppery, a bit spicier than garden cress. The reason for the pepperiness are mustard oil glycosides, which also have health-promoting properties.

In some parts of South America, the nasturtium is a food. However, it is a certain variety called mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum ), which forms tubers in the root area – similar to potatoes. The tubers are cooked or eaten dried and are low in carbohydrates and a valuable vitamin C donor.

Of the nasturtium, which is usually grown in the native gardens, the leaves, buds, fruits, flowers and seeds are edible. In particular, the edible flower of nasturtium is becoming increasingly popular because it not only looks decorative in (wild herb) salads, but also because of its piquant flavor. The leaves are also eaten raw, either in raw salads, as an ingredient for herbal curd or as a topping on bread.

The buds, however, find use as a replacement for capers. For this, the not sprayed tubers are rinsed with water and briefly boiled together with salt, vinegar and water. The still warm “broth” is filled with the buds in a clean glass jar and tightly closed.

Similarly simple is the recipe for making a vinegar with the flowers of nasturtium. The untreated flowers are covered with cider vinegar so that the flowers swim completely in the liquid; otherwise mold could form. The vessel is then closed tightly and placed in a dark place. The incipient discoloration of the vinegar is completely normal. The color then resembles the color of the flowers. It is important to note that the vinegar and flower mixture is shaken well once a day. After about four weeks, the vinegar is ready and has taken on the taste of nasturtium.

Nasturtium as a medicinal herb

In old European herbal books of the early and medieval times, nasturtium is not mentioned because of its American origin. However, Spanish traditions at the beginning of the early modern period provide evidence that the plant has been widely used as a herb by the Incas. The Spanish doctor Francisco Hernandez was the first European to describe the type of cress and stated that the plant was used mainly for skin diseases and external injuries.

The nasturtium was chosen as the medicinal plant of the year 2013 and is very important in natural medicine. The healing effect of the plant is based on the antibiotic, antiviral and antifungal properties, which is mainly caused by the containing mustard oil glycosides.

Today, the medicinal plant is primarily used for the treatment of the following complaints and diseases into consideration:

  • bacterial infections
  • urinary tract infections
  • respiratory infections
  • sinusitis
  • flu infections
  • bronchitis
  • muscle aches
  • wound healing

In experiments with dried and fresh nasturtium it has been shown that the plant kills bacteria, viruses and fungi (including Candida) and can be as effective as antibiotics. Various studies showed antibacterial effects on Escherichia coli, Staphylococci, Salmonella and Pseudomonas in laboratory experiments. Early cultures in the native lands of nasturtium already trusted the antibiotic effect. To treat open, inflamed wounds, a leaf was placed on the affected areas, which should have led to a fairly rapid wound healing. Today the herb is primarily used for bacterial infections in the genitourinary tract and respiratory infections.

Nasturtium - orange flowers
Nasturtium – orange flowers

As a home remedy, the plant can be used for cold symptoms. For this, a tea from grated nasturtium leaves is suitable. About two teaspoons per half liter (16-17 fl oz) are enough. The tea should be spilled with lukewarm water and let steeped for about 10 minutes before being drunk two to three times a day. Basically, the regular consumption of fresh flowers and leaves should help to strengthen the immune system and prevent influenza effects. The recommendation here is about 40 grams (1,5 oz) a day.

Another application for the use of nasturtium are external complaints such as muscle pain. The containing mustard oil glycosides cause a slight tissue irritation which promotes blood circulation. For the treatment extracts of nasturtium are available in some pharmacies.

Some studies mention that the nectar-containing glucatropaeolines also have anti-cancer properties.

Nasturtium is also important for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). There it will used for light exhaustion, lack of drive, mild depression and also in upper respiratory and urinary tract infections.


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

Buy Nasturtium – What to pay attention to?

Due to the increasing popularity of the plant, nasturtium and certain products are offered in many forms. Fresh nasturtiums are rare, but occasionally they can be found in larger garden markets or in delicatessens. When buying, it is important to make sure that the plant is free of black aphids. In addition, the soil should be neither too moist nor too dry, otherwise the plant can be damaged quickly.

Seeds can be purchased at most hardware stores, plant centers and online shops. The prices for this are now very moderate and are about 1 EUR/$ per bag. Most can be selected between climbing and creeping species

For medical applications commercially available are both tablets and dragees. The tablets should contain the extracts of the plant and should not be superimposed. Some manufacturers offer special preparations, which among others are labeled to as herbal antibiotics. These contain horseradish extract in addition to nasturtium and use the effective mustard oil glycosides for the medicinal effect. The prices for this are relatively high. Many product reviews, however, speak of good results.

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