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Common names: Nasturtium, Indian Cress
Taxonomic name: Tropaeolum majus
Uses: food, colds and flu, skin complaints, aching joints
Area of origin: South America
Warnings: The seed pods have a taste that can knock your socks off! Also, the mustard oil content can be quite high and cause burning if the leaves are over used on your skin.
Masses of Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) cover the banks of our local creeks at the end of Winter, all the way through until early Summer when the heat dries them out. Their bright yellow, red and orange flowers cheer up walkers and gardeners alike. The flowers are so bright and varied in colouration that you wouldn’t think that Nasturtiums are a relative of the humble Cabbage.
Nasturtiums are commonly used in salads, both leaves and flowers where they add a peppery bite to the meal. The seed pods are picked and pickled as a substitute for capers.
Their bright flowers and round green leaves have other properties besides their taste that are beneficial to us at this time of year, with winter colds all around. It’s good for bronchial types of flu and ‘itis’. Taken at the onset of a cold, their vitamin C and mustard oil can stop a cold in its tracks. They are useful later too in clearing out congestion as the cold progresses.
Vitamin C and Mustard oil make Nasturtiums valuable allies as both internal and external anti-fungal and antibiotics, especially for minor cuts and scrapes. The juice from crushed seeds makes an excellent anti-fungal and the crushed leaves can help with the itchiness associated with many skin complaints. It contains a compound called Spilanthol which penetrates the skin easily.
I like to crush up a few leaves and press them against aching joints. The juice gets in and the oil helps increase local circulation. This increase in local circulation is the reason for Nasturtium’s other traditional use. Rubbing an extract of the leaves has been used for centuries as a cure for baldness. Of course, only some kinds of baldness will respond to it, nut it may be fun to see your bald friends walking around with Nasturtium leaves on their heads on your recommendation.
It is interesting that Nasturtiums have an affinity for the urinary tract and can be used for infections and inflammations in this area. It can also be suggested for yeast and fungal infections in that area.
The dry, ripe, buds have a laxative effect too. Every part of a Nasturtium is useful!
So for something to warm you up and clean you out at the end of winter, Nasturtiums are the go. Don’t confuse them with Watercress, which has the same Genus name as the common name of Nasturtiums. Mixing the two up in a meal won’t hurt though, they share many common benefits for our health.