Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The garden nasturtium

The nasturtium is another alien species that is finding roots in the Maltese countryside.

 It is often found in shallow valleys especially close to gardens or growing in sheltered parts of a field especially close to rubble walls.

The nasturtium genus which belongs to the mustard family is a native of Central and South America. Many species are grown as garden plants and are considered as a invasive species in many parts of the world including Malta.

The species found in the Maltese countryside, known in Maltese as kapuċinella, is probably a hybrid of plants originating in the Andes from Bolivia north to Columbia. 

This species is known both as an ornamental plant as well as for its medicinal and culinary value. Both the leaves and flowers are edible and are used as salads. It is said that even the seeds are edible and can be used as a substitute for capers.

The nasturtium is a food plant for many species of butterflies and moths. In Malta I have found the caterpillar of the large white butterfly feeding in large numbers on its leaves.

Nasturtiums are sometimes planted as companion plants. They repel several species of pests and attract others. They are sometimes planted in the hope that these pests attack them thus keeping away from the crops.

The nasturtium has a slightly peppery taste similar to that of the watercress after which they are named. Watercress, which is known scientifically as Nasturtium, belongs to the mustard family and the two species should not be confused. 

The watercress which is known in Maltese as krexxuni, grows in aquatic and semi-aquatic habitats from Europe to central Asia. The stems are hollow and float on water.

It is widely cultivated to be sold as sprouts especially in the UK. Being an aquatic plant water cress grows easily in hydroponic systems and should do well in Malta. It is claimed that this plant is rich in minerals, folic acid and vitamins A and C. It is also a stimulant, diuretic, an expectorant and a digestive aid and is rich in antioxidants.

This article appeared in The Times 31.03.2010

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