Known to botanists and herbalists as Tropaeolum majus, nasturtium is a lovely plant with flowers in deep and vibrant colors that was once a common feature of every garden. Not to be confused with Nasturtium officinale (watercress), this plant with round and peppery leaves is less of a salad ingredient and more of a natural remedy. Meso-Americans and other civilizations have used the plant for its antibiotic properties, to heal urinary tract conditions, and to prevent scurvy. In medieval times, nasturtium was known as Indian cress and served as a staple of a healthy diet.
Rich in vitamin C, nasturtium is a fantastic adjuvant. Whenever you feel a cold coming on, chew some nasturtium leaves or make yourself a warm tea from its flowers to ward off the sniffles. While vitamin C helps your immune system fight bacteria, viruses, and fungi, doctors do not recommend nasturtium as a long-term solution. Instead, people should take it as a prophylactic. It’s a hardy plant that can grow in poor soil, so don't be surprised if you spot it in gardens around the city.
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Nasturtium is rich in sulfur, which is important to the body because it helps in detoxification, brings down swelling, and protects against UV radiation. There’s a link between sulfur and improving foggy mind, poor memory, and inability to concentrate. More recently, scientists are studying sulfur metabolism to see why and how it impacts the brain in conditions like autism and Alzheimer’s disease. But even if you’re not worried about any of these conditions, the leaves are great when you feel like you’re running out of juice, so boost those batteries with a couple of fresh-picked (and unsprayed) leaves.
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It sounds counterintuitive, but nasturtium can alleviate hay fever symptoms. Not the flowers, of course, but the leaves. A tasty little leaf tisane sweetened with honey and spiced with cinnamon can be just the thing, provided you don't normally have an allergic reaction to herbal brews or honey. Ease those sinuses and keep watery eyes and noses drier when you’re suffering from allergic rhinitis. All it takes is a quick nip of the leaves and a sprinkle of green goodness.
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Skin glow may be a myth, but skin health shouldn’t be. People with acne and oily skin can eat nasturtium leaves now and then to soothe their flare-ups and breakouts. Drinking nasturtium tea or using a cooled brew as a facial toner works as well. But the plant is more widely used as a hair treatment because it can increase blood flow to the scalp and help nutrients go where they’re needed most. Massaging a nasturtium, nettle, and rosemary tisane into the scalp daily could help with hair growth.
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In remote parts of the world, people use nasturtium to treat not just cold and flu, but also sore throat, bronchitis, and various respiratory problems. Due to their antibiotic properties, nasturtium leaves appear to alleviate symptoms drastically and very quickly, clearing up the airways and easing discomfort.
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Traditionally used to treat mild muscle pain, nasturtium leaves were crushed and applied on the skin alongside other herbs. But their efficiency dwindles over time, so it is best to apply them too the skin shortly after picking. Dried leaves may also work if fresh ones are not available, such as when the plant is out of season.
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Mischievous pets and bouncy children would have been grateful for granny’s nasturtium lotions back in the day. These creams help fight infections in wounds and speed up the healing process. Even now, when medicine isn’t readily available, people in remote areas of the world use it in tinctures and oils for their strong antiseptic properties. Elsewhere, people grind the seeds up into a paste and apply it to crusty and itchy skin to utilize its anti-fungal properties.
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Pregnant women should avoid nasturtium because it’s a very powerful emmenagogue. It induces menstruation, and it could cause miscarriage if taken in early pregnancy. All parts of the plant (flowers, leaves, capers) are off-limits during pregnancy. Still, it is a lady-friendly plant, not only as phytotherapy for skin conditions but also because it stimulates blood flow in women with irregular menses due to hormonal disorders.
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Nasturtium may help the central nervous system perform better. It was traditionally used to combat depression, tiredness, poor sight, and apathy. It helps boost the immune system and serves as a natural pick-me-up, so it can help fight issues connected with various nervous ailments, such as sedentarism.
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Nasturtium is a "garden companion", helping gardeners keep pests and disease at bay. But one of the best reasons to grow it may be that it makes a good meal excellent. Add a few leaves to your salads when you’re out of rocket, sprinkle some over your pickles, or garnish your roast. Make a vinaigrette out of the seeds or douse fresh ones in vinegar when you’re all out of capers. The peppery taste of the leaves, similar to arugula, and the pungency of the seeds makes them ideal for chopping, juicing, and even steaming (like spinach). Enhance wraps, soups, smoothies, and pickles with bay leaves, cloves, and thyme for an even more enticing taste.
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