Saving Seeds: Exploring the Importance of Diversity in a (Nut)shell

Courtesy of Bioversity International

Why is the act of saving seeds so important?

Saving seeds ensures plant divesity. In Permaculture systems, we depend on plant diversity in order to create adequate checks and balances in our system. We have written about this in a general way in Building Diversity into your Garden.

Since we are hosting a webinar on Seed Saving for Beginners thanks to a collaboration with Seed Savers Exchange, we thought it timely to revisit the reasons that seed diversity is vital to survival on this planet.

If we do not save seeds we will lose favorable genetic plant traits…

Oregano seeds


1. To guard valued crops against pests and disease

We love experimenting with different crop varieties in our yard! It’s a lot of fun to discover different tastes and sizes amongst your produce. Occasionally, we find a particular heirloom variety that is resistant to specific pests.


For instance, when we grow squash in our small yard, we often use an heirloom variety called Tromboncino Rampicante. This is a type of zucchini resistant to squash bugs. Thanks to its preservation by Bakers Creek Heirloom Seeds, we have a seed variety choice of this kind!

We also love the “Big Boston” lettuce variety. It tolerates the frost very well and yields abundantly.

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) states on it website:

“Plant genetic diversity also has the potential to provide traits that can help meet future challenges, such as the need to adapt crops to changing climatic conditions or outbreaks of disease.”

2. To save human lives

A lot of the plants we deem as weeds are in fact, medicinal plants. I love discovering how these plants were used to heal throughout the centuries.

Unfortunately, the most sought after plant medicinals are endangered.

The Botanic Gardens for Conservation tells us that “the vast majority of botanical material for medicinal use is still collected from the wild. Few medicinal species are cultivated and many wild populations are now at risk from over exploitation.”

80% People who live in sub-Saharan Africa rely largely or entirely on traditional medicines derived almost exclusively from wild plant sources. If these plants are lost, these people are highly vulnerable to extinction themselves!

3. To preserve history

I started saving seeds after listening to a talk about Seed Stories at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference in 2015. The speaker was Tor Jansen, manager of the seed bank collection at Seed Savers Exchange (SSE).

People from across the United States sent their seeds to the SSE to preserve them. Often, they did so with a unique story of how they came to have the seed variety in the first place.

For instance, many American mothers in decades past gave their daughters a collection of seeds on their wedding day.

This act was as if to say, “Now you are old enough. Now you can feed your family with this gift.”

Other stories included exchanges between Native American Indians whose tribal names have long been forgotten.

Still, others were of foreigners who would come to the New World taking a little bit of their country with them, in the form of seeds.

I am witness to this in a personal way because I live two doors down from Aklima; a grandmother who grows seeds she has brought with her from her native Bangladesh.


She speaks no word of English, but we communicate through our plants and by saving seeds for each other. Occasionally, she will put a few of her melon seeds into my hand. We both understand that the value of this gesture is beyond words. These seeds are a rare treasure.

Plant diversity today

We estimate that there are around 30,000 edible plants on the planet. Throughout history, humans have cultivated around 7,000 of those.

Right now, we grow only around 200 species. And 95% of us include only 10-50 of these plants in our regular diets.

“These include bananas/plantains, beans, cassava, maize, millet, potatoes, rice, sorghum, soybean, sugar cane, sweet potatoes, and wheat.”

Diversity is part of abundance. We have a world “brimming over” with plant diversity. Why are we settling for only a little tiny bit of it?

What do I do next?

  • Start saving your own seeds

    To learn how, watch our “Seed Saving for Beginners,” webinar which is a collaboration with the Seed Savers Exchange.

  • Join a Seed Exchange or Seed Swap

    Seed Savers Exchange is a great place to begin.

    Search local seed swaps or even online seed swaps in your area.

  • Eat something new!

    Diversifying your food is key to a balanced diet. If you eat too much of the same thing (even if they are fruits and vegetables), you will not be able to foster good bugs in your belly. If you are open to diversifying your diet, you will more likely be able acquire the nutrients and minerals you need to thrive… not just survive!

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