Saving Herb Seed

Buying seed is a recent thing.  Most gardeners used to routinely save seed from their best annual and biennial herbs and vegetables.  Seed saving is an easy and beneficial thing for Urban Herbologists to do, here’s why and how:

Why save herb seed?

  • It saves money and increases self sufficiency.
  • Saved seed is well adapted to your location. It has survived the local weather, soil type and pests.
  • You can save from plants with interesting characteristics.
  • Saved seed can be shared and swapped.
  • It increases plant variation, increasing the local gene pool and biodiversity.

How to save herb seed:

Plants use different methods to spread seed far and wide to new and favorable locations.  Most rely on the wind, animals, water, gravity or an explosive force to disperse their seeds.  The method your chosen herb uses will dictate how you should set about collecting its seed.

  • Sew your annual or biennial herbs as usual.
  • Select a few of the strongest plants for seed saving.  Use the other plants of that type for your herbal needs.
  • Grow the seed savers on to maturity. Allow them to flower and for their bare seeds or fruit to develop freely.
  • Mature the seed.  Allow it to ripen and dry on the plant as much as possible.
  • Collect the ripe fruit or seeds before they disperse naturally. This may involve:
    Shaking ripe, dry seed-pots into a paper bag (Nigella),
    Pulling dry seeds out of dead flower heads (Calendula),
    Cutting off dry seed heads (Allium),
    Cutting off ripe but unexploded pods (Legumes, pea family),
    Cutting off and into ripe fruit and scooping out the seeds (Rosa)
  • Clean the seeds. This may involve sorting or sieving seeds from plant debris or removing a soil covered outer layer (garlic).
  • Dry the seeds. Seed allowed to dry on the plant, in warm dry weather, may be enough. For better results also lay them on a sheet of kitchen roll or newspaper, in a dry room for a few days.  Seed collected from wet fruit needs extra care.  Super dry rice can be used to effectively suck moisture out of seeds. I’ll post an easy method for this later this week.
  • Pack and label your seeds when you are certain they are bone dry.  I use ordinary envelopes or small glass jars.  Label the name, date and where you collected the seeds from on the packet.
  • Store your seeds in a relatively cool, dry and dark place.  Some take storage further by freezing their seed, this can prolong their viability by several years, if done with very dry seed. My freezer is otherwise occupied.
  • Share and Grow on your saved seed.  Don’t forget to plant your seed the following year. It may keep for longer but reduce the risk of losing your seed stock by growing some of your saved seed and then repeating the cycle.  You are likely to save far more seed than you need so consider sharing or swapping seed with other Urban Herbologists.

If you are thinking of collecting and saving seeds from the wild please don’t. Wild annual herbs rely on seed dispersal for their survival.

Kew Millenium Seed Bank provides a wealth of information about why global seed saving is important and how they manage their collection.  The Real Seed Catalogue and similar organisations, can help by providing “real seed” to get you started.  Seed collected from the plants you grow from “real seed” will be viable and reliable, unlike that from many hybrid varieties often sold by the large seed companies.  Hybrids often yield sterile seed or nonuniform seed.


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