It is fall, so many of the plants in the garden are producing seeds which might overwinter and sprout in the spring. I am making an effort to collect some of those seeds and store them for future planting. Seed catalogs and companies were not a large institution in the United States until the late 19th century. Prior to that, most home gardeners collected seeds in their own garden from year to year, or shared seeds and cuttings with neighbors.
One of the advantages to growing heirloom varieties of fruit, vegetables, and other plants is that they will usually produce viable, true seeds to replant the next year. Many modern plants popular in in both vegetable and ornamental gardens will produce a sterile seed, not capable of growing another plant. Even viable seeds from hybrid plants will generally not grow into the same variety of plant which bore them.
Most of the seeds which I have been collecting from the garden are not from vegetables, but the medicinal plants and herbs in the garden. I will take some space to show a few of the seeds I have been working with.
The Toothache Plant is an annual, meaning that it will have to be replanted from seed in the spring.
The seeds are very small. each dried flower head contains scores of seeds.
While many medicinal plants used during the 19th century are now viewed as poisonous, the toothache plant is not. When eaten raw, the leaves and flowers will produce a mild sour, tingling, and numbing sensation in the mouth and throat, making it an effective treatment for toothaches and sore throats. Many Eastern cultures still use the plant in food, both cooked and as a raw green. Here at the Pry House, we have enjoyed tasting the plant and experiencing it's unique effect in the mouth.
White Horehound is another popular 19th century medicinal plant which is still considered safe and edible. Many people still use horehound, usually in lozenges, to relieve sore throats, improve digestion, and reduce inflammation. I also believe that it tastes very pleasant in candies.
Horehound seeds are even smaller than Toothache Plants and very difficult to extract. In frustration, I gathered many of the seed pods to spend time later in extracting the seeds. Horehound is a perennial plant, however, meaning that it will survive the winter and return in the spring without sowing new seeds. These seeds will only be necessary if I wish to grow new plants or the existing ones should have a mishap.
Not all of plants going to seed in the garden were intentionally planted there. Some are volunteers that most gardeners would consider weeds, but because they were used by people in the 1860s, I have left them. Sweet Annie, for example is growing all throughout the garden. It is getting ready to scatter it's tiny seeds (smaller than a pinhead) to winter in the soil.
I have not found any medicinal use for it in the United States during the Civil War (I am still looking!), but it was used for making wreaths and garlands because of it's unique, strong, sweet scent. I do not care for smell of Sweet Annie, but I seem to be alone in this. The plant is not native to the United States, but it has become an incredibly common weed across the country.
Jimson Weed seeds I have collected
Another seemingly obvious source of seeds to save would be the unharvested pumpkins. However, because my Connecticut Field Pumpkins grew alongside two other varieties of squash, I cannot be sure that they did not cross-pollinate. In other words, I cannot be sure that the squash did not interbreed and that these are true Connecticut Field Pumpkin seeds.