The bright orange, red or yellow flowers of the nasturtium are used as an ornamental addition in gardens. Sometimes the flowers are even used to add a decorative touch to food. The nasturtium’s leaves and seeds can also be eaten. Yet this beautiful plant is even more versatile than you may think. It contains mustard seed oils, which have been proven to be effective against bacteria, viruses and fungal infections. Read on to find out more about the origins, appearance and healing properties of nasturtiums
Nasturtium’s origins and habitats
All 90 known species of nasturtium originally came from Central and South America. They form their own genus: Nasturtium (Tropaeolum). These plants first made their way to Europe in the late 17th century. Today in Switzerland they are often grown as ornamental plants in country gardens and herb gardens. Nasturtiums are not only popular because of their appearance: the flowers can be used as edible decorations, while the young leaves add a peppery note to salads. The buds and unripe seeds can even be pickled and used like capers.
In German they are called Kapuzinerkresse and the word kresse is based on the old German word cresso, which means spicy. This refers to the slightly peppery, spicy flavour of the leaves and flowers that is caused by the mustard seed oils contained within the plant. The first part of the name – Kapuziner – refers to the shape of the flower. Viewed from the side, it looks similar to the hoods worn by the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin.
The most famous nasturtium is the Tropaeolum majus, which is known as garden nasturtium, Indian cress, or monk’s cress. Today it is also commercially cultivated for its medicinal effect.
What do nasturtiums look like?
Garden nasturtiums form tendrils that enable them to climb fences, trees, climbing aids and trellises. They grow up to three metres high. They feature striking, almost perfectly circular, leaves that balance atop centralised stems. When it rains, the water droplets roll off the surface of the leaves. This is referred to as the lotus effect, as it is also a key characteristic of lotus plants. Nasturtiums usually bloom from June until October, until the first frost. The colour of the flowers ranges from yellow to orange and red. In Switzerland nasturtiums are annual, because they cannot survive the cold winters.
Active ingredients and their effects
In the 18th century nasturtiums gradually became more well known in Europe, where initially they were mostly used as ornamental flowers. Their high vitamin C content meant they were soon also used to treat scurvy, a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency. They also contain essential oils and various plant substances that act as antioxidants, such as carotenoids.
Nowadays we know that the nasturtium’s most significant medicinal potential lies in its mustard seed oils. These substances are known as isothiocyanates and they help to prevent the proliferation of bacteria, viruses and fungi. This effect has been clearly demonstrated in numerous trials and studies.
Antibiotics can damage the intestinal flora and lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Effective herbal alternatives, such as nasturtiums, have few side effects and can reduce the use of antibiotics. In recognition of these and other benefits, the nasturtium was voted Medicinal Plant of the Year in 2013.
Medical uses for nasturtiums
Given that nasturtiums have an inhibiting effect on bacteria, in some cases they can be used instead of antibiotics for the treatment of infections. However, unlike conventional antibiotics, this plant can also be used to combat viruses. The common cold is a typical example of a viral disease. Colds should ideally be treated using a combined preparation that includes horseradish.
Combined preparations with horseradish
Garden nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) and horseradish complement each other particularly well. Studies have shown that a combination of these plants can achieve therapeutic success comparable to that of antibiotics when used to treat a variety of different ailments. That is why preparations like angocin® contain complementary dosages of both medicinal plants.
When to use nasturtiums
Nasturtiums have antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties and can also hinder the growth of fungi. For these reasons, they are used to treat conditions such as:
- Bladder infections (cystitis): Nasturtiums can help to resolve infections in the urinary tract. Since 2017, the use of nasturtiums has also been recommended in medical guidelines for the treatment of uncomplicated urinary tract infections and the treatment and prevention of bladder infections.
- Sinus inflammation (sinusitis): Sinus infections are not only unpleasant – they can also lead to complications. Herbal medicines such as nasturtiums and horseradish can help to combat the bacterial cause of the infection.
- Bronchitis: Nasturtiums can also be used in cases of bronchitis.
Please note: Herbal remedies may also have interactions and side effects. Please read the package insert and talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you require further information.