SeedZoo™ is a project to preserve traditional and indigenous food plants from around the world. Teaming up with botanical explorers and ethnobotanists, we are searching for rare and endangered food plants that home gardeners can grow and enjoy, and help to preserve.
Of the 7,000 or so species of food plants known to man, only 140 are cultivated commercially, and of those, most of the world’s supply of food depends on just 12. Even as the world increasingly speaks about food security, incredible varieties that are known only to a single tribe or in small and remote localities are being lost forever.
We sent plant explorers across the world in search of rare beans, squashes, melons, greens, and grains. They have been to the jungles of Borneo, to small farms in Japan and Italy, and to the bustling food markets of Africa. In the coming months they will visit India, Vietnam and beyond. Many of the rare and exotic plants that they bring back don’t even have names and can only be called landraces - plants with unique features found in only one region or sometimes in just one village.
Often our explorers can bring back only a handful of seeds, sometimes fewer than 100. Because these seeds are so rare and from such remote regions of the world, they are sold on a “first come, first served” basis. Once they sell out they may never be available again. So if you see a variety that you like, do not hesitate to order it or you may be disappointed. The SeedZoo™ variety list is only available online and will change often so check our SeedZoo website regularly, or follow us on Twitter.
Join us in this grand project to preserve a part of the world’s food diversity. Try some of the planet’s treasures, and enjoy the culinary adventure. And please save some seeds and share them with your friends.
This video presentation by Conrad Richter explains why the SeedZoo project was started and why gardeners should grow these rare and endangered food plants in their gardens.
Here are the currently available SeedZoo™ varieties!
Oblonot Sweet Melon
This is a creamy white-fleshed melon grown in southern Kyrgyzstan, in central Asia. It is a favourite variety of the area north of the city of Osh. The fruits are large, from 4-10 pounds (2-4.5kg) and the flesh is thick, sweet and juicy. Like most melons, it thrives best in dry warm areas with cool nights, and taking care not to over water will yield sweeter fruits. Fruits are picked when they start to change from green to yellowish. Estimated 110 days to maturity. Order it now!
Just like the Mediterranean species, Capparis inermis, the flower buds and young fruits are pickled and used as a seasoning or garnish. This species is more cold tolerant and could be hardy in more northern areas of North America. It grows throughout the Caucasus and Central Asia where the local people traditionally collect the buds for use in cooking, and in some areas collect the buds on an industrial scale. Our seeds were collected in the dry steppes of Kyrgyzstan by Joseph Simcox, the botanical explorer who inspired the SeedZoo project. The collection site was at lower elevations where it gets quite cold in winter, and he guesses that this plant will survive at least zone 6 in North America. Order it now!
Dagbon Grey Millet
This is one of many pearl millets grown in northern Ghana. Pearl millet may be the oldest domesticated food crop in West Africa. It was grown in Mali as far back as 4,500 years ago and was later brought to Ghana by invaders. Today more than a half million acres in northern Ghana are devoted to millet cultivation. Farmers traditionally save their own seeds, selecting the best plants suited for their local region, and many unique varieties throughout the millet-growing areas have been developed over the centuries. This unnamed variety, from one of the local markets in southern Ghana. is used to make a thick porridge called to and a thin, fermented porridge called koko. For koko, the seeds are roasted and popped and then ground into flour. This millet is also used to make a deep-fried pancake-like snack called marsa. Among the Ewe people, pearl millet is sometimes used in place of maize in traditional foods such as the dough-like akple served with soups. Due to worries of climate change there is a renewed interest in traditional drought- and heat-tolerant crops such as pearl millet. Order it now!
Ajima Chile Pepper
This chile pepper is from a tiny village called Ajimakope, located in the Volta Region of Ghana, in West Africa. Inaccessible by road, our collectors had to hike in, fording a river along the way. It is an heirloom of the Ajima family, a family of traditional herbalists and farmers. Ajima pepper is a local variation of the piri piri peppers found throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa. Piri-piri peppers are believed to have arrived from South America and became established in the wild centuries ago. Piri-piri peppers can vary a lot but this has mild heat and a nice woodsy flavour. There is hardly a dish prepared in the village in which this pepper is not used. Plants reach a height of 50-60cm (20-24"). Order it now!
Turkish Corbaci Pepper
This is a beautiful sweet pepper with long narrow fruits up to a foot (30cm) long. The fruits turn from green to yellow to orange and finally to red and can be eaten at any stage. Originally from Turkey, it is known for its heavy yields, producing as many as 100 fruits per plant according as some have claimed. Local SeedZoo contributor Sofie Bigham says that she never gets that many fruits per plant but for her this pepper has been a reliable heavy yielder in her Ontario garden ever since she began growing it in 1998. Although Corbaci peppers are still grown in Turkey by farmers today, this Canadianized version is a little thicker and heavier than the Turkish original. Order it now!
A variety of cowpea growing in popularity among Ewe farmers in the Lake Volta region of West Africa because of its higher yields and higher tolerance of pests. Farmers report that they can get higher prices for ‘Cynthia’ than for other varieties. The flavour is similar to ‘Tsenabawu’ and ‘Turkoviahe’ varieties, but is taller and more vigorous. Like other cowpea beans, it is cooked in stews or cooked with rice and served with any spicy fish, meat or vegetable sauce on top. Little is known about the origin of the variety but some farmers have said that they heard it came from nearby Togo. We suspect that this variety was brought to the area by a trader named "Cynthia" and was henceforth known by that name. Order it now!
West African Popping Sorghum
Sorghum is a major cereal crop in the north of Ghana where it is a staple used for porridge and to make a local beer called pito. There are many varieties, white, red, and brown, and among them there are early, medium, and late varieties. This variety is preferred for making popped sorghum, a snack that is popular throughout Ghana and West Africa. Unlike many other varieties, this sorghum has a hard glassy endosperm that traps steam until the pressure explodes. The popping is so quick that little heat is required and proteins and vitamins are only slightly denatured by the heat. In the village of Dagbamete, the locals pop the seeds by roasting in hot sand over a fire (see video). The seeds pop almost instantly and the popped seeds are separated from the sand by sifting. Salted water is sprinkled on the popped kernels while still hot. Popped kernels are sold locally in small plastic bags. In Western kitchens sorghum can be popped like popcorn on the stove or in a microwave.Order it now!
This is a giant kale that came to the Americas from Spain centuries ago, presumably with early settlers. It became a family heirloom that is still passed on from generation to generation. It can get up to 5ft (1.5m) tall, and even taller when it flowers. SeedZoo contributor, Lorraine Collett, says that the leaves get so big they look like an elephants ear. Imagine leaves that get up to 20in/50cm long and 12in/30cm wide! The leaves can be used in soups, stews, stir-fries and can be used like cabbage leaves to make meat rolls. Hummingbirds love to visit the yellow flowers. If the flowers are allowed to set seeds, the plant will reseed itself where winters are mild. Easy to grow. Happily grows as a spring-planted annual where winters are more severe. Order it now!
A traditional favourite of the Ewe people of the Volta region of West Africa. Harvest time is eagerly anticipated when the beans, along with maize and groundnuts, are cooked in seasonal dishes such as ayibli and ayikple. The mottled beans are commonly cooked whole or they are first roasted and ground and then cooked to make nutritious stews and breakfast porridge. Drought resistant and sweeter tasting than other beans. Traditionally planted in May or June and harvested in August. Order it now!
An old variety grown by the Ewe people of West Africa. As far as we know only a few farmers in the Lake Volta region are still growing it. Beautiful small red beans are borne in long straight pale-yellow pods. Traditionally cooked in stews or simply cooked with rice and served with any spicy fish, meat or vegetable sauce on top. Can also be eaten like string beans when young and tender.Order it now!