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All About Seeds

As a boy, I remember my grandmother had a bird feeder in her back yard, and I assumed this was the only use for seeds. I did eat sunflower seeds growing up, but it was not until my studies in nutrition that I started to understand the varieties of edible seeds and their nutritional qualities.

Seeds are not used a lot in Ayurvedic cooking. I never really focused on them until a couple of years ago when I had a strictly vegan client who was living on them and experiencing imbalances in her health.

In the past 10 years, we have heard a lot of positive information about Chia, Flax, and Hemp seeds. But there are many edible seeds with a lot of nutritional values which include some grains, vegetables, beans, and fruits and are often referred to as "the fruit or seeds" of plants.

Seeds are defined as embryonic plants because they are produced from the ovule (small ovum) of the plant following fertilization, and consist of an embryo and a protective outer coating. Seeds are a plant's source of reproduction and are very diverse. Pepitas are the seeds from the pumpkin. Chia seeds come from the mint family. Poppy, sunflower, and mustard seeds are beautiful flower plants. Hemp comes from the same plant as marijuana, but their seeds lack the high-inducing chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC. Sesame seeds develop in triangular-shaped pods on plants that can reach 9 feet tall, and flaxseed comes from an annual herb, which is also harvested for linen fiber.

Seeds fall within the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They supply plant-based sources of essential amino acids (protein), heart-healthy fats, vitamins and minerals, and dietary fiber. They contain phytochemicals (chemical compounds produced by plants that help them thrive against competitors, predators, and pathogens.)

The use of seeds is linked to improved cardiovascular, digestive, immune, and bone health. Research suggests regular consumption of seeds may contribute to the management of blood sugar and appetite as well as bone and mineral density and may help lower the risk of obesity and certain cancers.

They are often an afterthought in our diets, usually found as toppings on baked goods or savory snacks. Seeds are versatile and can be enjoyed raw, roasted, sprouted, or as seed butter. Unlike nuts, they are not a common allergen.

Following is a breakdown of some of the most common seeds that you can easily find.

Flax Seeds

Flax is also known as linseeds and is considered a superfood in today’s health world. Their Latin name is Linum usitatissimum, which means “very useful,” and are among the richest sources of plant-based omega fatty acids. Flax was first introduced in the United States by the colonists, primarily to produce fiber for clothing. Still, every part of the flaxseed plant is utilized. Flaxseeds are available either whole milled, roasted and as oil. Flax oil is a replacement during Ayurvedic Panchakarma (detoxification) if the client cannot consume ghee. Flaxseeds are a natural anti-inflammatory and are packed with antioxidants which balance hormone and cortisol levels. They considered a brain booster and can help treat depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s, and ADHD. Being a low-glycemic food, they help to control diabetes and are considered a natural laxative. Additionally, they regulate the metabolism of cholesterol, boosting HDL (good cholesterol), and reducing LDL (bad cholesterol).

Energetics: Sweet, astringent, and warming.

Dosha Energies: Reduces Vata/Pitta, and increases Kapha.

Qualities: Heavy, sticky, slimy, oily, increase fat and water, alkalizing, and Ojas building.

Vitamins: B1, B6, E, K, thiamin, folate, pantothenic, choline, and betaine.

Minerals: Manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, potassium, copper, and zinc.

Bio-Medicals: Demulcent, antibacterial, anti-inflammation, antiviral, antibiotic, emollient, expectorant, laxative, and nutritive tonic.

Benefits: High in insoluble and insoluble fiber, low in carbohydrates, benefits skin, hair, nails, and eyes. Improves digestion, fights certain cancers, lowers cholesterol, gluten-free, and high in antioxidants.

How to use: Flaxseeds are best-consumed ground or sprouted as our bodies cannot access the nutrients when eaten whole.

Chia Seeds

Referred to as a superfood in the health community. Originally grown in Mexico, the seeds are highly valued for their medicinal properties and nutritional value. Referred to as a superfood with health claims including reducing appetite and weight, lowering triglycerides, and improving blood sugar for diabetics.

Energetics: Sweet and cooling.

Dosha Energies: Reduces Vata /Pitta, and increases Kapha.

Qualities: Gooey, sticky, and heavy.

Vitamins: A, B1, B2, B3, and C.

Minerals: calcium, manganese, magnesium, zinc, copper, sodium, and phosphorus.

Bio-Medicals: Antioxidant, cardioprotective, anti-proliferative, anti-cancer, demulcent, laxative, appetite suppressant, hypercholesterolemia hypolipidemic properties, and fat metabolizer.

Benefits: Promote cardiovascular health and brain function, improve the skin, build strong bones, and reduce signs of aging. They benefit digestion, lowers cholesterol levels, and reduces the risk of cancer.

How to use:  The best way to access the vitamins and minerals in Chia seeds is to either grind or soak them. Eating them raw does not entirely release their nutritional power.

Hemp Seed 

Hemp was first cultivated as textile fiber around 8000 BC in Macedonia. It has played a significant role in the early textile industry of North America but was overshadowed by cotton because it was cotton was less labor-intensive. Hemp comes from the Marijuana plant but differs when ingested, having substantial health benefits with no side effects. It is a complete protein containing 20 amino acids and fiber.

Energetics: Sweet, heavy, and cold.

Dosha Energies: Reduces Vata/Pitta, and increases Kapha.

Qualities: Oily, Ojas building, grounding, and Tamasic.

Vitamins: A, B1, B2, B3, B6, D, and E.

Minerals: Calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc.

Bio-Medicals: Diuretic, sedative, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, digestive, nutritive, and adaptogenic.

BenefitsLowers blood pressure, reduces cholesterol, and benefits heart function. It builds immunity, reduces inflammation, and benefits diabetes, multiple sclerosis, allergies, eczema, and psoriasis. 

How to use: Hemp seeds can be used whole or ground on cereal, yogurt, smoothies and in baking. The seeds can also be used for making hemp milk.

Squash Seeds (Pumpkin, Butternut, Acorn, Spaghetti & Kabocha)

Squashes are gourds and are in the Cucurbitaceae family. All squash seeds are edible and have nutritional value. Many are familiar with pumpkin seeds, but butternut, Acorn, Kabocha, and spaghetti squash seeds are delicious. 

Energetics: Sweet, bitter, and cold.

Dosha Energies: Balancing for Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.

Qualities: Alkaline, dry, and heavy.

Bio-Medicals: Antimicrobial, anthelmintic, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, and reproductives.

Nutrition: High in antioxidants, fiber, omega fatty acids, carbohydrates, and protein.  

Vitamins: A, C, niacin, folate, iron, magnesium, calcium.

Minerals: Calcium, iron magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, copper, and manganese.

Benefits: Improves digestion, bone health, arthritic conditions, lowers cholesterol, and boosts insulin.

How to use: Seeds have a natural nutty flavor and are often roasted and eaten as a snack or added to salads or baked items.

Watermelon Seeds

Watermelons have been traced back to early Egyptian times. They are rich in beta carotene, and antioxidants, which protect the body from certain cancers, diabetes and benefit cardiovascular health. They are fat-free, rich with omega fatty acids, carbohydrates, and protein, low sodium, cholesterol-free, and a source of electrolytes. 

Energetics: Sweet and cooling.

Dosha Energies: Reduces Pitta and Vata, and increase Vata.

Qualities: Alkalizing, clearing, and drying.

Bio-Medicals: Antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, nutritive, alterative, blood tonic, refrigerant, livotonic, diuretic, and aphrodisiac, lowers blood sugar and is anti-cancerous.