watermelonSo many seeds … so many uses? In Checkout Line, Lou Bendrick cooks up answers to reader questions about how to green their food choices and other diet-related quandaries. Lettuce know what food worries keep you up at night.

Dear Lou,
At Halloween we look forward to the pumpkin seeds as much as anything, but lots of other fruits–watermelons, squash, avocados–are full of beautiful seeds and it seems a shame to throw them away. Are they edible, and can anything be done with them?
Debbie from Ohio

Dear Debbie,

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Not only do seeds symbolize hope, opportunity and potential, but, as embryonic plants, they have the literal ability to feed us. It’s no wonder we feel a twinge of shame when they go into the compost bucket. So, to borrow a grammatically awkward but enthusiastic phrase: Let’s not do that!

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There are several things that can be done with the seeds from the foods you buy at the grocery store (or farmers market):  

1. They can be eaten.  

According to this Wiki on edible seeds, we eat lots them in the form of legumes, nuts, cereals, pseudo cereals (such as flax), and gymnosperms (such as pine nuts). Of course, there are many seeds we don’t want to eat, and this is happy news for plant procreation. According to the New York Times, the bitter taste of some seeds makes them less desirable to predators (such as omnivorous humans). As for the lesser known yummy seeds you mentioned, I’ll say this about that: Go ahead and eat those squash seeds–just roast them as you would pumpkin seeds. Here’s a recipe. Watermelon seeds can indeed be eaten, but in raw form they pass through our systems as seeds are wont to do (hoping, if seeds can hope, that they’ll get a chance to sprout on the other end). Snacking on dried watermelon seeds is common in China but not so popular here. I didn’t find a watermelon seed recipe for you, but I did find you this gizmo in case the urge hits to roast some (just like the squash seeds) after your next picnic. Next: Ixnay on eating the unpalatable and (and highly chokey) avocado seeds, but I have another good use for those, coming up. First, some bonus trivia that really shouldn’t be in the eating-seeds section: The term sperm comes from the Greek sperma or seed.

2. They can be sown.
Did you know that seeds from many of the foods found in your produce aisle can be grown into attractive houseplants? I didn’t, until I bought the book Don’t Throw It, Grow It: 68 Windowsill Plants from Kitchen Scraps, by Deborah Peterson and Millicent Selsam. This fun little book urges you to grab a friend and make a “pit stop” to create houseplant fun (!) out of everything from carrots to tamarind. Speaking of houseplants, that avocado pit you mentioned might get as big as a gorilla with enough love (when he was a little boy, my husband planted one in a glass on his grandfather’s kitchen windowsill. Thirty years later his grandfather passed on, but the avocado had pretty much filled the old man’s sunroom.) Want that? Try this.

Some words of advice before sowing: Buy organic produce and heirloom varieties if you are able (hybridized plants won’t breed “true,” which means that you might not end up with a plant that resembles its parents). Also, be careful about plunking your grocery store seeds or seedlings into your garden: Those mangoes (yes, you can grow them) are unlikely to survive in your growing zone. More important though, some plants might be invasive. Peterson points out that a few Jerusalem artichokes planted in her garden formed a “clump of scraggy, eight-foot perennial plants.”

3. They can be used for other fun, random stuff.
You can spit seeds, which is just plain, vulgar fun. And evidently, there’s a real technique to it. If you’re on the refined side, you could dry all of your unused seeds and then make really cool art. I was pretty impressed with this life-like seed portrait of Dolly Parton. You can also make seed balls, a fun project for your progeny (seeds of your loins).

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More bonus trivia: You live in the “buckeye state,” because of all those horse chestnut seeds in Ohio that look like deer eyeballs. Not that you can eat them, but they’re fun to collect and look at.

Well, Debbie, I know what to do! Let’s get off these silly computers and go raid our refrigerators for, um, seed projects before I use any more seed sayings.

Thanks for “planting” this question,