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Nasturtium

( Originally Published 1933 )



TROPAEOLUM MINUS, L.

Cress of Peru, Cress of India, Yellow Lark's Heels, Dwarf Nasturtium, Tom Thumb Nasturtium.

Tropaeolaceae Annual

The tall varieties of the nasturtium are climbing and of a sturdier growth, and are called Tropaeolum major, L. T. minus flowers more abundantly and does not require any support, and therefore is the better for the herb garden. It is native to Peru, and some writers are of the opinion that it is a perennial at home. It is a leafy, spreading, low plant, with almost circular leaves and conspicuous flowers from yellow and orange through to dark red. The plant is about twelve inches high, succulent, and covered with tiny down. It smells pleasantly of spice.

Root. The root is tenuous and small.

Stem. The stems are crisp, round, of light green and fastened to the under side of the leaves, which they sup-port like a large floppy hat balanced on one's head.

Leaf. The stem joins the leaf one-third the way up on the lower surface and directly over this on the upper surface is a light green circle from which seven to eight veins radiate like spokes in a wheel. The leaves are two and one-half inches across with the margins nicked where the veins cut them, and otherwise more or less wavy. On the under sides they are a lighter green than the upper. They are smooth and hold the drops of water on them like glistening jewels after a rainfall.

Flower. The flowers are two and one-half inches across, either of solid colors, or of a light color striped and marked in a darker tone. They have a heel, and the five sepals and five petals are of a bright color, as are the six stamens, which are irregularly shaped and arranged. Fernie says that in the warm summer months the flowers at about sunset have been noticed to give out electric sparks.

Seed. The seeds are light green, later turning light brown, three-parted, ridged and wrinkled, from one-quarter to three-quarters of an inch across to much larger.

They taste peppery, pleasantly and stronger than other portions of the plant. The germinating power lasts five years, says Vilmorin.

Variety. There seems to have been much selecting and crossing among the nasturtiums. Particularly handsome are Sutton's Sunset, of an orange pink, and Sutton's Salmon Pink, both dwarfs.

HISTORY AND LEGEND

The first mention of them in Europe is by Lobelius in 1564, as Tropaeolum species, and a creeping variety is pictured. They were described by Monardes in 1574; Gerard says they first came to Spain from the Indies. Quintinye grew them in the royal kitchen garden in 1690 ; Evelyn tells how to pickle them.

USES

Medicine. They are mentioned in the "National Standard Dispensary" of 1916.

Food. The flowers decorate salads and the stems and young leaves are eaten either in salads or sandwiches. The seeds chopped up can be used in sauces, as capers are, where a peppery, spicy taste is desired, and the seeds and flower buds are used in pickles.

CULTURE

The seeds are planted out-of-doors early in May in a sunny situation; not too closely together, for the seedlings do not stand transplanting. In very dry weather the plants are sometimes subject to aphids and can be cured by pouring cooled, soapy, dish water over them a few times a day for several days. The flowers come five to six weeks after sowing and produce seeds two to three months after planting. If the soil is too rich the plants will run to leaves and stems. The trailing varieties are often planted in pots.



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