Saving Seeds – Food and gardening biodiversity

Everyone can save seeds!

Beginners and experienced gardeners can easily learn how.

I’d like to offer a few reasons on why we should save our seeds.

1) Saving seeds appeals to my motto of “waste not want not”.

I hate to see anything good go unused, and the economical reasons alone, especially in today’s financial climate, makes a ton of sense.
Seed savers knows that by gathering up seeds and storing them carefully away for next year’s garden is preservation for next year’s crop, and less money to fork out.

2) Personal selection.

I like the thought of developing my own vigorous strains over several seasons of selective seed saving. By saving seeds from the plants with the qualities you most prize, you will soon have varieties that are ideally adapted to your garden and growing conditions.

3) Maintain biodiversity.

This is likely the most important reason.

Fewer and fewer old varieties of food crops are available, so seed saving keeps the vegetable world’s food choices diversified.
Today many of the world’s food plants are disappearing, including vegetables, grains and fruit varieties.

Approx. 70 % of the world’s major food plants have already been lost. This is because modern agriculture practices require high yield, uniform plants, so the genetic base of the world’s food plants has been greatly reduced. This has left the world dependent on a few, closely related varieties of each crop.

4) Historical value.
Many plant varieties we save or trade are living links to the past.
Seed saving is a way to link with our ancestors. As gardeners, this is a responsibility and opportunity to pass these wonderful heirlooms to future generations.

5) Sustainability.

Many big companies sell varieties that are tasteless, but travel well. That’s not a good enough reason for me. Self reliance is very satisfying. It is our right to save seeds and make sure that there is enough variety on the planet which makes for biodiversity. It’s the cycle of life.

The thing is, we don’t need gigantic corporate conglomerates holding all the cards, or whittling down our choice of food or flowers.

These big companies, (I don’t have to mention names here), make most of their money, (their sole goal), selling toxic chemicals to spray produce with, on food that we ingest.

I’ll never be convinced this aim of theirs benefits us or any other form of life on earth, including the smallest microbes in soil.

Consider shopping locally if you can! Farmers’ markets & local festivals are a great place to start. Many locally based businesses carry organically sourced goods from small producers in their region, and of course almost anything can be acquired online.


For more information visit:

Seeds Of Diversity

Canada’s Heritage Seed Program – A non-profit group of gardeners who save seeds from rare and unusual garden plants for the purpose of preserving varieties – Purchase the manual – “How to Save Seeds” from their website!

Navdanya

Vandana Shiva on Seed Saving – “The desire to save seeds comes from an ethical urge to defend life’s evolution” says Vandana Shiva, activist, author and scholar.

150,000 farmers in India have committed suicide in areas where seed has been destroyed…where they have to buy the seed every year from Monsanto at a very high cost.

Saving seeds is crucial now for our farmers, for the plant varieties and species that will otherwise be extinct, for the health of the land and ourselves.

Seed Savers (U.S.A.)

“Since 1975, we have grown, saved, and shared heirloom seeds and led a movement to protect biodiversity and preserve heirloom varieties. At the heart of our organization is a seed bank that houses a collection of 20,000+ rare, open-pollinated varieties.”


Sweet Peas are ‘Scentsational’ Flowers

This lovely climber is an old time favourite.

Sweet Peas have been cultivated, at least since the 17th century, were immensely popular during the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and are native to the eastern Mediterranean region.

Every year I grow a few in my garden, if only for an occasional pick-me-up from a snootfull of their heavenly fragrance. 🙂

If I could bottle the scent of Lathyrus odoratus to enjoy all winter, you can bet I would!

If like me, you like to get the jump on spring, I recommend preparing the ground this time of year for next year’s planting. Top dress the garden, and dig in some sheep manure, which helps to draw roots down deeper in the ground, resulting in less watering overall, happier seedlings, and healthier plants.

Sweet Pea flowers come in many shades. This includes purple, pink, blue, white, and bi-colours, too. Pollinators enjoy the flowers, and I am able to enjoy the Hummingbirds and bees when they visit and pollinate the sweet peas for me.

Sweet Peas are a great cut flower, and perfect for bridal bouquets.

I worked as a floral designer at a wonderful flower shop in Toronto, and a few days before I was married, one of our wholesale flower reps gave me a bunch of these lovelies as a wedding gift.  As my wedding bouquet was already created, I took them instead to my grandmother’s grave and left them there for her. A token of how much she would be missed… But I digress!

A couple of years ago, I broke down and bought a perennial sweet pea plant, Lathyrus latifolius.

A vigorous climber, it seemed very happy to attach itself to the obelisk my better half built for me. It’s very hardy in this zone 4 of Ontario, and a prolific bloomer, too. This year it grew taller and thicker than last, which as a gardener, was good to see!

I did note however, that annual sweet peas have a much stronger scent than the perennial version. Of course that might just be the variety I’m growing, but in any case, both are beautiful, and very welcome in my garden!

It is worth mentioning that ornamental sweet peas can be toxic if ingested, so don’t eat them!

They’re not edible like their Pea cousins, Pisum sativum, which by the way have similar flowers, but the bonus of edibles for dinner!

Or, if you’re like me, eaten directly from the plant while standing next to them in the garden. 😉

Of interest, within the language of flowers, the Sweet Pea means “Everlasting, or delicate pleasures”, and, along with the daisy, they’re the birth month flower for April.

House and Garden – Mayflower, ca 1902

Some virtues, folklore, and use of lemon balm and mint

If you grow lemon balm in the garden, also known simply as balm or sweet balm, you’re likely aware of this Mint family member’s many virtues.

Introduced from Europe, this perennial herb has erect square stems and stands about two feet tall. The whole plant is covered with a soft down, and if the foliage is touched, even as soon as it’s just emerging from the earth in spring, it offers an abundance of that sweet lemon fragrance it’s famous for.

The flowers, insignificant looking really to us humans, are a magnet for bees, so in that respect, not insignificant at all! The Latin name, ‘Melissa officinalis’ comes from the Greek word ‘Melissa‘, which translated literally means ‘bee‘.

According to folklore, apiarists of old would rub the leaves of lemon balm inside older hives, inducing new swarms to remain and take them over.

Lemon balm thrives in poor soil, (I can account for that), and thrives in both sun or shade.

In fact, thrive is an understatement. Like any mint, it is an aggressive and prolific plant. It will take over the whole garden and your lawn if you let it. I suggest planting any in a big pot, then sinking it in to the ground if you don’t want its thick runner roots to escape.

I can’t lecture anyone about that because it did escape in my garden. Now I have to keep it (somewhat) contained by mowing parts of it down, (which likely helps it spread), but that lemon scent wafting through the air as I cut the lawn smells divine!

This herb makes a lovely tea. Hot or cold, it can be used to flavour lemonade. Mixed with Chamomile, lemon thyme, and lemon balm, this soothing tea tastes wonderful. It can be very relaxing if one is feeling stressed. Adding a little honey will sweeten the mix, too.

It must be said however, if one is on any thyroid medication, lemon balm may interfere with thyroid hormone-replacement therapy. It’s best avoided in this case, and I hasten to add, always check with a doctor, pharmacist, or certified herbalist first.

According to Mrs. Grieve, lemon balm as a drink induces a mild persperation, makes a pleasant, cooling tea for feverish patients, and, if used with salt, can be used to ease gout.

As most lemon flavours go, it’s especially nice with fish and pork. It also adds a light flavour to stews and soups. I’ve been drying this and many herbs, for a long time. Mixing them together with sea salt is an easy way to create a rub for meat, poultry, or in a salad. Steeping mints and lemon balm in vinegar, then straining is an easy way to create an herbal flavour to be used on salads, or in other culinary recipes. If you don’t like the flavour, it makes a nice hair rinse, leaving your locks shiny and healthy looking! Just don’t get any in your eyes. It will sting!

I harvest my lemon balm in the morning after the dew has evaporated, but before the high sun of the day. Use it fresh if you can, because that’s when most herbs are most potent in flavour, aroma, and qualities. Otherwise, it’s easily dried and if you harvest it before it flowers, but do leave some behind to encourage bees in the garden. Hung upside in small bunches to dry, it only takes a few days to do this, and when it’s crispy, break it all up and keep it in a jar for future use.

With regards to folklore, and in addition to Lavender, Mandrake, Deadly Nightshade, Cardamom, Plantain, Juniper, Saffron, and a host of other plants, the mint family members, including lemon balm, are considered Witches plants.

The sacred knowledge of these plants in particular were given by the Greek goddess Hecate to her daughters, Circe and Medea, and were considered consecrated herbs by this mythical trio.

According to Culpeper, ‘It is an herb of Jupiter, and under Cancer, and strengthens nature much in all its actions. Let a syrup made of the juice of it and sugar be kept in every gentlewoman’s house, to relieve the weak stomachs and sick bodies of their poor sickly neighbours: as also the herb kept dry in the house, that so with other convenient simples, you may make it into an electuary with honey.’

Flower language in folklore tells us that Lemon balm and the mint family equates with wisdom, virtue, and abundance. Customary in medieval times, peasants would ‘strew the churches with Mint or other herbs and flowers’ at funerals as a devotion to the Virgin Mary, where a poem from this custom illustrates it well

“Thou knave, but for thee ere this time of day
My lady’s fair pew had be streed full gay
With Primroses, Cowslips, and Violets sweet,
With Mints, and Marygold and Marjoram meet,
Which now lyeth uncleanly, and all among of thee.”

In the Abruzzi region of Italy, women who chanced upon sweet balm or mint would pick and bruise a leaf between their fingers as insurance for the day of their death, and that ‘Jesus Christ would assist them into Heaven.’

Gerarde stated about all mints, “It poured into the eares, taken inwardly against sea scorpions, serpents, and applied with salt, to the bitings of mad dogs.”

All very interesting! But, here’s hoping nobody’s path crosses with mad dogs, serpents or sea scopions.

Another suggestion, if like me, you grow way more herbs than you can possible use, and don’t like to see them go to waste, make some kindling bundles. These take no time to put together and are nothing more than dried herbs rolled into bundles and tied with raffia, used as kindling or fire starters. – Perfect for that cottage camp fire in summer, all you have to do is harvest some herbs, including mint, lavender, thyme, marjoram, etc., tie them together and use when you need them. They offer a lovely scent with which to light a fire, or, as an offering to the gods if you’re feeling particulary Witchy under a full moon.

With all of the information above, I may have either encouraged people to grow lemon balm and other mints, or totally scared them off! However, they are such useful herbs and I recommend anyone growing them in the garden.

As I sit here looking wistfully out the window, observing the three feet of snow still covering my yard, I’m actually looking forward to cutting the grass this year, and inhaling that lovely lemon scent.

 


References

  • The Herb Garden Guide – ERIC ED242477 – Lathrop E. Smith Environmental Education Center
  • The American Herbalist Guild – Pub Med and additional resources
  • The healthy life beverage book – Knaggs, H. Valentine, University of Leeds. Library, 1911
    Publisher, London : C.W. Daniel
  • A Modern Herbal, by Mrs. M. Grieve, 1931
  • Nicholas Culpepper. The Complete Herbal at Project Gutenberg
  • Cyclopedia of practical floriculture, by Turner, Cordelia Harris, 1884
  • Herb magic, by United States Department of Agriculture. Radio Service, 1944
  • Plant lore, legends, and lyrics – by Folkard, Richard, 1884
  • The Herball, or, Generall historie of plantes /gathered by John Gerarde of London, master in chirurgerie. by Dodoens, Rembert,; Gerard, John,; John Norton.; Priest, Robert, 1597