Seeds are the potential for new life that are grown as part of a plant and in some way reach the earth to carry on their species. The longlived plants, such as trees, may generate seeds of some kind at various intervals. The seeds discussed here are from annual plants and are contained within a hard shell that protects this potential for the next generation of life. These seeds are slightly different from the grains, which have softer shells and a different structural makeup, though they are very similar in many ways. Beans and peas are actually seeds as well, though contained in pods. Most seeds can be stored in their whole form. In fact, some seeds discovered from centuries past were still able to germinate.
Seeds were originally used in their ground form as seasonings or herbal flavorings for foods. Celery, cumin, mustard, cardamom, and coriander seeds, as well as many others, are still used in this way. But seeds are also very concentrated food. They are the initial source of the nutrition for the new plant.
The three main seeds discussed here?pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower?are high-protein foods, with more protein than the grains. Pumpkin seeds, for example, are more than 30 percent protein. High in vitamin E, these seeds are also a good source of fat, containing more than half by weight. Luckily, most (more than 80 percent) of that is polyunsaturated fats, our essential fatty acids, and oil-soluble vitamins A, D, and E. So seeds can be rather high in calories, which is good for those few who are attempting to gain weight. There are some B vitamins in seeds, varying depending on the seed. They are rich in minerals; iron and zinc are plentiful. The amount of magnesium is good, especially in pumpkin seeds. Most seeds are a great source of copper. Calcium and potassium levels are also fairly good, yet there is very little sodium. Phosphorus levels are high, especially compared to calcium, thus an excess of seed intake can throw off this important balance. Iodine is usually present in most seeds as well.
Seeds can be eaten raw after shelling and bought fresh either in shells or unshelled. They are a good protein addition to salads, can be cooked into grain or vegetable dishes, or can be blended to make a low-sodium protein sprinkle for food dishes. Unhulled seeds have a better shelf life than the hulled seeds, which should be kept refrigerated. Unhulled seeds can be stored in a cool, dry place. All seeds can be sprouted to make a highly nutritious seed-vegetable (green) combination. Sunflower and alfalfa are common and can be used in salads or sandwiches.
Most commonly, seeds are used to make oils. Sunflower, safflower, and sesame are very good ones among the seed oils. These can be used in cooking (sunflower is the most stable for storage and cooking) or to make margarines, but they are best used fresh on foods such as salads and cooked grains or vegetables. Usually, cold-processed oils (not heat-refined) give good nourishment, and using them uncooked is best.
Pumpkin Seeds. These are best known for their concentration of zinc and their use in the treatment and prevention of male prostate problems. Pumpkin seeds have also been used in the treatment of intestinal worms. They are a good source of protein and contain a good balance of the amino acids, though tryptophan, methionine, and cysteine are a little lower in concentration than the others. Their fat content, mostly unsaturated, is over 50 percent of the seeds.