Monday, 20 June 2011

Grow your edible seeds

Seeds can be used in a variety of ways and just five portions a week can have many health benefits. They can be used in many ways, eaten whole, ground or made into butters and added to sweet or savoury recipes. 

Seeds are very nutritious, providing the body with fibre, essential vitamins, protein and minerals such as potassium and phosphorous. Nuts are, however, high in carbohydrates and oils and should be eaten in moderation.

Growing your own organic seeds is, therefore, very beneficial for health reasons but can also save you money, as the price of seeds can be very expensive.

Seeds such as celery, caraway, sunflowers, flax, poppy and sesame can be grown seasonally and pumpkin seeds used rather than discarded.

Seeds to grow 

Caraway: Prefers a fertile soil rich in humus, full sun and a pH in the range of between  4.8 to 7.8.  Sow flax seeds very thinly in March at 6mm deep. Seeds will germinate in about 8 to 12 days and thin or transplant them to 20cm apart in stages. Plants can grow to 45cm to 60cm high. When the plants are established they will only require watering in very dry periods or in periods of very hot weather. Harvest seeds about 4 months after sowing. Caraway seeds shatter easily when dry and can easily self seed. Stored in a jar, the seeds can keep for months.  Harvest by cutting the plants from the base and shake inside a bag to remove the seed. The seeds are high in fibre, anti-oxidants, vitamins A, E and C, copper, iron, zinc and calcium. Caraway seeds have many health benefits including helping digestion and has diuretic properties. The seeds can be brewed in a tea to help with stomach aches. Seeds are chewed raw to freshen the breath and can be used in bread making, salads and as a condiment. 

Celery Seed: Leave one celery plant until the plant develops seed stalks.  These will grow up to 1 metre tall and will produce feathery green flowers on top of which the seeds will grow.  Wait until the stalks start to turn brown and dry out before removing the stalks and drying thoroughly in a cool but dry place.  Once dry, place the flower heads inside a bag and shake to dis-lodge the seeds.  After cleaning, to leave the seeds, store in a jar for up to 6 months after which they start to lose their aroma.  The seeds contain antioxidants, omega 6 fatty acids and chemical compounds which help thin the blood.  The seeds are diuretic and assist the body in ridding excess water.  The seeds have a very strong flavour, so a small pinch goes a long way.  Can be added to salads, coleslaw, pasta dishes and soups.

Flax: Prefers a fertile soil, full sun and a pH in the range of between  5.0 to 6.5.  Sow flax seeds very thinly in September. Seeds will germinate in about 10 days and thin or transplant them to 30cm apart in stages. Plants can grow to 1.2 metres tall and may require some support. When the plants are established they will only require watering in very dry periods or in periods of very hot weather. Harvest seeds about 4 months after sowing  The leaves on the lower part of the plant will start turning yellow and falling off.  The seed pods will rattle if shaken. Pull the plants out of the ground and hang to dry in a warm, dry and airy location.  After a few weeks the plants can be threshed inside a sack to remove the seeds. Sift and clean the threshed plants to extract the flax seeds. You can producelinseed oil when the seeds are cold pressed.  The seeds are edible and are rich in magnesium, vitamins, fibre and omega 3 fatty acids. Evidence is mounting that the seeds prevent inflammation; relieve arthritis; retard and prevents tumour growth and boost the immune system. 

Mustard Seed: Mustard is a spice with a strong flavour and seeds come in either white, black or brown varieties. Black has the strongest flavour, followed by brown then white.  Mustard will grow in most soil types but prefers a well drained and fertile soil. Has a wide range in pH tolerance from 4.2 to 8.3.  To get two harvests a year sow seeds thinly about 6mm deep in early March and September, keep moist and weed free, and seeds will germinate in around ten days. Plants mature in about two months and are ready to harvest for seeds when the plants turn yellow. To harvest the seeds cut the plants at their base, tie into sheaths and sun dry for 5 days. The pods can be shaken inside a bag to extract the seeds.  Whilst growing the leaves are an excellent addition to salads or cooked.  The seeds are used for pickling and used, sometimes ground, to make sauces and dressings. Store harvested seeds in an airtight jar and in a cool and dark place. The seeds are rich in minerals, vitamins and trace elements. Some of the health benefits are: said to relieve migraine, an aid to digestion, have anti-inflammatory properties and due to the high magnesium content assists people with high blood pressure and asthma.  

Poppy: The seeds have a nutty flavour and are used widely in baked goods, especially in Southern Europe where they are added to the dough when making bread. Sow seed thinly and directly outside in March or October and poppies will germinate in about 7-10 days. Choose a sunny but well drained site but poppies will grow in most soils. Poppies prefer a pH in the range of 6.6 to 7.5. Water until well established and keep weed free. To harvest the seeds, at the end of their growing season, cut the heads off the stems into a paper bag. Break the heads into a second paper bag and leave to dry thoroughly. Sieve the seeds which will remove any chaff and store in a jar in a cool but dark area. Poppies left to seed will self sow readily and with the wind will ensure poppies pop-up all over your garden. Poppy seeds are not high in vitamin content but contain many essential minerals. 

Pumpkin: Grow your pumpkins and to harvest pumpkin seeds, slice open the pumpkin and scoop the seeds into a bowl. Wash in warm water to remove the pulp and spread out to dry on a tray for twenty-four hours. The seeds are then roasted in the oven in the same way as sunflower seeds. The seeds are very nutritious and contain large amounts of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and most of the B vitamins. They are also a good source of protein and polyunsaturated fats. Due to their high nutritional content, the seeds are beneficial for healthy bones, bladder and kidney problems, in reducing cholesterol and for prostate health in men. The prepared seeds should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge and eaten within 2 months.

Sesame: The tiny seeds are widely used in Cypriot cuisine in baked goods or to make tahini, or sesame seed paste. Tahini is also one of the ingredients used to make humous and the confection helvah. The seeds also make a good addition to salads and as a topping to steamed vegetables. Sesame seeds should be sown directly at 6mm deep into a friable soil in early spring. Sow in rows at 60cm apart and keep moist until germination occurs which is usually 8-15 days. The plants should be thinned in stages until 25cm apart. Once established the plants are extremely drought tolerant due to an extensive root system. Sesame prefers a pH in the range of between 5.6 and 6.6. The plants grow, depending on the variety, up to two metres in height. The seed capsules develop at each leaf axil, starting at about 30cm from the ground, and are gradually produced up the stem. The seed pods are usually ready for harvesting from 90 to 150 days after sowing. Watch carefully, and harvest dried pods regularly and pop open into a large container. The seeds are exceptionally rich in calcium with 90mg present in every tablespoon. Once harvested the seeds can be lightly roasted in a frying pan, which has been wiped with olive oil, until they go light brown which should only take one to two minutes. Once cooled, the seeds can be stored in an airtight jar, at room temperature, for up to four years.  

Sunflower: Sunflower seeds make a delicious snack  but have to be processed to make them edible. Sunflowers are easy to grow and prefer a rich, fertile soil and full sun. Sow seeds directly in early March at 2.5cm deep, in a soil with a pH of between 5.7 to 8.0. The seeds will germinate in about eleven days. Keep watered until well established, after which sunflowers are quite drought tolerant. However, to grow sunflowers to their maximum height regular watering and additional fertiliser is required. Thin to 60cm apart in all directions and provide support against wind damage. Sunflowers will reach maturity in about 85 days and reach a height, depending on the variety, of between 1-2.5 metres.

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