WILD KITCHEN & APOTHECARY — Seeds for Future Generations

November 3, 2018

By Angela Kingsawan

Recently I was invited to give several herbal demos during a weeklong seed sovereignty conference in Acoma, New Mexico. I am so grateful to have been given this experience. It gave me the opportunity to step outside of myself and view seed and food sovereignty through a different lens. 

I was reminded that the movie Seed reported that in the United States we have lost more than 90 percent of our seed diversity in the past 100 years. That statistic was published in a 1983 Rural Advancement Foundation International study that compared the number of commercially available fruit and vegetable varieties in 1903 to the number of related varieties found in the National Seed Storage Lab in 1983 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The seed storage lab, a “gene bank”, was built in 1958 to preserve seeds and information about their provenance and about the plant characteristics the seeds produce.

The native corn seeds displayed on the table were offered in swap for seeds brought by those who attended a seed exchange conference held in Acoma, Ariz. Photo Angela Kingsawan

The organizer of the Acoma conference brought seeds that stopped me in my tracks. She was given a collection of seeds by the family of a Native American elder who had passed. She said that his family found seeds stashed away throughout his house. Some seeds were found in old butter containers or in jars. All of the seeds they found were rare and hadn’t been grown for generations. Some of the varieties were thought to have gone extinct.

Conference attendees were invited to participate in a seed exchange and were invited to be stewards of the seeds. As held I the seeds, I knew I was holding history in my hands and I was truly humbled. But the reality of what has happened to heritage seeds came flooding into my heart.  In North America and all over the world, we have lost plant species through hybridization and hyperdevelopment of land.

As I stood in awe taking in that display of seeds, my three-year-old daughter Elena dove right in! She was so happy and touched everything. All I could do was laugh and follow her lead. I observed what she was drawn, to and those were the seeds we chose to take home. 

I shared some of the corn varieties that I grow — Guarijillo Blue, Oaxacan Green Dent, Tarahumara Cacareno, Mountain Pima Maize Azul, Ho Chunk Red — and an assortment of my herb seeds.

Herbs provide us with so much. They can heal physical, emotional, and spiritual ailments. Herbs can be used to flavor our food, as medicine, for body care, and as cleaning products.

It is important that all of us realize the value of what is growing around us before it is too late. It’s also important to recognize that not only Native American seeds are endangered. Seeds from all cultures and all corners of the world need to be saved and protected. I encourage seed saving and sharing of seeds wherever I go, but it has to start at home. Listen to what speaks to you, regardless of the culture it originates from. Pick out one plant and commit yourself to growing and saving its seed from year to year. If we all do this, we can ensure a future filled with diversity and abundance.

It was heartwarming to see the different experience of participants, some who have grown gardens for many years, some who were new growers, and some, who, because of this conference, were inspired to begin planting for the first time. 

Even though we all came from different parts of the country, our hearts were very much the same. Sometimes we just need a little prompting to take action.

Flo and Leland Vallo made the ceramic seed pot that Angela Kingsawan displays in her hand. She is also holding Ho Chunk red corn seed, white ceremonial Acoma corn seed, and Mohawk yellow and red corn seed. Santana Phillips designed the seed container. He and Flo and Leland Vallo are members of the Acoma Pueblo in Acoma, Ariz. Photo Angela Kingsawan

Native Americans see plants as our relatives and our plant relatives reach out to us. Plants are here to nourish and heal us on a deep and meaningful level.  We, in return, are required to be responsible stewards of our environment to protect the plants.. We can fulfill that responsibility in a number of ways.

You don’t have to be an active gardener to save seeds. If you come across rare and beautiful plants, save their seeds. Or, you buy non-GMO open pollinated seeds, especially heirloom and heritage varieties, accept seeds from someone else, or gather seeds from nature. 

Once you have your chosen seeds, make sure they are completely dried before storing. Any moisture on or in the seed will cause them to mold and they will lose their viability. Store them in a clean and dry container. Synthetic materials don’t provide the moisture and temperature control necessary for long term seed storage, so I prefer glass or ceramic containers. Always label your jar with the name of the seed and the date which it was stored. This will be helpful later, just in case you forget.

If seeds are stored properly, they can last successfully for many years. There have been seeds found in ceramic vessels at archaeological sites that were still viable after 1,500 years.

Please realize that by saving seeds we all have the power to make a positive impact for our future generations.   

More seed saving advice:

Angela Kingsawan is the herbalist and garden coordinator at Core El Centro, a wholistic healing center. For information; core-elcentro.org

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