What Are Benne Seeds: Learn About Benne Seeds For Planting
By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
What are benne seeds? Chances are you already know about benne seeds, which are more commonly known as sesame seeds. Benne is an ancient plant with a recorded history of at least 4,000 years. The seeds were highly valued during Colonial times, but in spite of its nutritional benefits, benne hasn’t gained a following as a food crop in the United States. Today, benne seeds are grown in Texas and a few other southwestern states, but most often, the seeds are imported from China or India.
Benne Seeds vs. Sesame Seeds
Is there a difference between benne seeds and sesame seeds? Not a bit. Benne is simply the African name for sesame (Sesamum indicum). In fact, many plant historians believe benne was brought to the New World in slave ships. The name is largely a regional preference and sesame seeds are still known as benne in certain areas of the deep south.
Benne Health Benefits
Sesame seeds are a great source of minerals including copper, magnesium, calcium, iron, manganese, zinc, and selenium. They are also rich in vitamins B and E, protein, and the high fiber content makes them an effective treatment for constipation. Benne health benefits also include the oil, which is healthy for the heart and also used to treat a variety of skin conditions, including sunburn.
Sesame Plant Info – Growing Benne Seeds
Sesame plant is a drought tolerant annual that can reach heights of two to six feet (about 1-2 m.), depending on plant variety and growing conditions. White or pale pink, bell-shaped flowers bloom for several weeks during the summer.
Sesame plants grow in most soil types, but they thrive in fertile soil with a neutral pH. Well-drained soil is a requirement, as sesame plants don’t tolerant soggy growing conditions. Full sunlight is best for growing benne seeds.
Sesame (benne) seeds for planting are often sold by seed companies that specialize in heirloom plants. Start benne seeds indoors about a month before the last expected frost. Plant the seeds in small pots, covered with about ¼ inch (6 mm.) of a good quality, lightweight potting mix. Keep the potting mix moist and watch for seeds to germinate in a couple of weeks. Transplant sesame plants outdoors after temperatures have reached 60 to 70 degrees F. (16-21 C.).
Alternatively, plant sesame seeds directly in the garden in moist soil after you’re certain all frost danger has passed.
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Read more about Sesame Plant
In the Vegetable Gardening for Beginners Guide, we cover how to start a vegetable garden from scratch, which vegetables to grow, and when to plant what. This year, we’ve added a “starter” garden plan consisting of easy-to-grow vegetables, companion planting techniques, and some lovely flowers!
Why garden, you ask? How about enjoying the best vegetables and fruit you’ve ever eaten? If you’ve never tasted garden-fresh food, you will be amazed by the sweet, juicy flavors and vibrant textures. There’s absolutely nothing quite like fresh veggies, especially if you grow them yourself—which you can!
It may seem daunting at first, but gardening is a very rewarding hobby. On this page, we’ll highlight the basics of vegetable gardening and planning: how to pick the right site for your garden, how to create the right-size garden, and how to select which vegetables to grow.
Pick the Right Location
Picking a good location for your garden is absolutely key. A subpar location can result in subpar veggies! Here are a few tips for choosing a good site:
- Sunny spot: Most vegetables need 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. There are a few veggies (mostly the leafy ones) that will tolerate some shade.
- Drains well and doesn’t stay wet: If you have poorly drained soil where water pools, plant veggies in a raised bed or raised row for improved drainage. Wet soil means wet roots, which can turn into rotted roots. If you have rocky soil, till and remove the rocks, as they will interfere with root growth and make for weaker plants.
- Stable and not windy: Avoid places that receive strong winds that could knock over your young plants or keep pollinators from doing their job. Nor do you want to plant in a location that receives too much foot traffic or floods easily. Plant in a location that would make Goldilocks smile—somewhere that’s “just right.”
- Nutrient-rich soil. You soil feeds your plants. If you have thin, nutrient-poor soil, you’ll have poor, unhealthy plants. Mix in plenty of organic matter to help your plants gro. See how to prepare you soil for vegetable plants.
Choosing a Plot Size: Start Small!
Remember: It’s better to be proud of a small garden than be frustrated by a big one!
One of the most common errors that beginners make is planting too much too soon—way more than anybody could ever eat or want! Unless you want to have zucchinis taking up residence in your attic, plan your garden with care. Start small, and only grow what you know you and your family will eat.
Size of Garden
- If planting in the ground, a 10’ x 10’ garden (100 square feet) is a managable size. Pick 3 to 5 of your favorite vegetables and buy 3 to 5 plants of each one.
- If planting in a raised bed, a 4’ x 4’ or 4’ x 8’ is a good beginner size. See our Raised Garden Bed Guide which covers the benefits of raised beds, how to build a raised bed, and what type of soil to fill a raised bed with.
- If you want to go bigger, a 12’ x 24’ garden in the ground is probably the biggest a first-timer should go. For example, a garden that feeds a family of four could include: 3 hills of yellow squash 1 mound of zucchini 10 assorted peppers 6 tomato plants 12 okra plants a 12-foot row of bush beans 2 cucumbers on a cage 2 eggplant 6 basil 1 rosemary, and a few low-growing herbs such as oregano, thyme, and marjoram.
- Whatever the size of your garden: Every four feet or so, make sure that you have paths that allow you to access your plants to weed and harvest. Just make sure that you can reach the center of the row or bed easily without stepping on the soil.
Applying Too Much or Too Little Water
The amount of water you supply can make or break seedling growth. Watering is one of the most challenging aspects of seed starting. Because seedlings are so delicate, there is very little room for error when it comes to watering. You must keep the sterile seed-starting medium damp but not wet.
To increase your chances of getting it right, here are a few things you can do:
- Create a mini-greenhouse to keep soil moist: cover the container with plastic until the seeds germinate.
- Water from the bottom to enable the seedlings to soak up water through the container drainage holes. There is less chance of over-watering when you use this approach. Add water slowly for 10 to 30 minutes, and use your finger to touch the top of the soil to ensure that moisture has reached the top of the container.
- Check soil moisture at least once a day.
- Buy a self-watering, seed-starting system.
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The Tiny Seed with BIG Flavor You Can Grow at Home: Sesame
We all know 'sesame seeds' from the McDonald's Big Mac ad :"Two all beef patties on a sesame seed bun". Many are familiar with the phrase "Open, Sesame" from Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. We have had fresh baked bread garnished with sesame seeds, and tasted tahini (sometimes called the butter of the Middle East), a ground toasted sesame seed paste used in hummus, baba ganoush, halvah and other traditional Middle Eastern dishes.
Sesame (Sesamum indicum) is a high value, ancient oilseed first recorded as a crop over 4,000 years ago. Sesame seeds have twice the oil of soybeans by seed weight. The oil is more stable than most vegetable oils due to high antioxidants sesame is also high in protein, about 25%. The nutty tasting sesame oil is used almost exclusively for human consumption. After oil extraction, some of the spent meal becomes a high protein animal feed supplement and the rest is ground into sesame flour and added to health foods. 
About 5 million acres worldwide are said to be in commercial production, with the U.S. growing only about 20,000 acres mainly in Texas and some southwestern states. (We import 5 times what we grow.)
Thomas Jefferson saw the potential in sesame and grew it 200 years ago at Monticello in Virginia.  He called it ‘benne’ and Benne Wafers (a thin cookie made with toasted sesame) are still a prime delicacy in the low country of South Carolina and in New Orleans. The benne (or sesame) seed was thought to bring good luck, and was brought here on the slave ships from Africa more than 300 years ago.
Growing Sesame in your Garden
Sesame commercial crops are grown mainly in the hot climates of Mexico, Central America and China, but since it is an annual you can grow it in your own garden.
Sesame needs well-drained and fertile soil, without too much nitrogen added or you will get lots of plant growth with not much seed production. You can direct-seed sesame after all danger of frost is past. Sesame must be planted shallow, preferably 1/2" deep, and does best just after a rain, or if the soil has been irrigated to slightly damp. Germination is 1-2 weeks, and sesame matures in 80-125 days on average. (Sesame is indeterminate so maturity is spread over time.) This herb will tolerate dry conditions once the seedlings are well established. Sesame grows 2-4 feet tall but can reach as much as 9 feet! The hairy, single stem needs space so plant seedlings in rows 2-3 feet apart. Sesame flowers white (and rarely pink) before becoming seed capsules with 8 rows of seeds in each 1 to 1-1/2 inch fibrous seed capsule. The seeds are tiny, flat and pointed, averaging 15,000 seeds per pound.
Sesame oil, high in Vitamin E, is believed to improve skin diseases, soothe sunburns and benefit the cardiovascular system. The fat in sesame is 82% unsaturated fatty acids . Eating sesame seeds relieves constipation and aids digestion.
Sesame seeds are available hulled or unhulled, and toasted or untoasted. The unhulled are often used on bakery goods because they adhere better. Black sesame seeds are used as a dramatic garnish in Asian foods although the taste is said to be the same as the off-white seeds most familiar to us. Seeds are easily toasted in an ungreased skillet over medium heat for a minute or two.
Sesame oil added to a dish at the very end of cooking adds a zest to stir-fries and a splash is delicious on a salad, giving it an oriental flavor. You can roll confections in sesame seeds for a nutty taste and delightful presentation. Sprinkle some on baked dishes and breads. There are many recipes on the internet for party dips made with sesame tahini (commonly found in hummus) dishes like Baba Ganoush, and Falafel all are traditionally made with a sesame paste, plus all the confections made for generations with sesame.
|Tahini (Sesame Seed Paste) with Pita Chips & Veggies ||Black Sesame Seeds ||Sesame Seed Cookies |
1 cup sesame seeds
3/4 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Place the sesame seeds on an ungreased baking sheet and toast for about 10 minutes, watching closely, until lightly browned. In a large mixing bowl mix the brown sugar, melted butter or margarine, egg, vanilla extract, flour, salt, baking powder and toasted sesame seeds together until blended.
Drop dough by half-teaspoonfuls onto a lightly greased baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between cookies. Bake benne wafers in preheated 375° oven for 4 to 6 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cookies cool for about 2 minutes on baking sheets remove from baking sheets to a wire rack to cool completely. Store cooled sesame seed cookies in an airtight container.
Makes about 72 Cookies
The only significant source of sesame varieties and seeds currently in the U.S. is the Sesaco Corporation (1-800-527-1024). Their plant breeder has developed several varieties. Every year or two they update the variety or varieties recommended to their contract producers.
A few public varieties of sesame were released decades ago but are no longer available. Occasionally, specialty seed houses will have some sesame available in garden-sized packets, of unregistered varieties that are probably not good agronomic performers (sold, for example, by Seeds of Change, New Mexico, phone 888-762-7333, in small packets by mail order). 
Thanks to BassetMom and Wuvie for use of their photos in Plantfiles. Hand holding sesame seeds ©Peter Short, iStockPhoto #5097253, Used by Permission Heap of sesame seeds ©Anna Milkova, iStockPhoto #3641952, Used by Permission Hummus and Veggies ©Aiyana Paterson-Zinkand, iStockPhoto #3222329, Used by Permission Black sesame seeds ©Radek Detinsky, iStockPhoto #4762114, Used by Permission.
Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute http://www.jeffersoninstitute.org/pubs/sesame.shtml
,  http://www.vegparadise.com/highestperch41.html
About Darius Van d'Rhys
About Darius Van d'Rhys
I have a 'growing my own food' obsession that comes from my overlapping interests in cooking, nutrition and gardening. I am also a "teacher", a writer, a builder… and a craftsperson and. and… and many other things, LOL. In fact, I guess I am a generalist, and a Seeker. I live in the southern Appalachian Mountains on a hillside with a creek in front, and drive a 15 year old truck I lovingly call “My Farmer’s Ferrari.” Editor's note: Darius passed away on March 19, 2014. Her readers will miss her greatly and we are thankful for her legacy of wonderful articles.
Facts and Benefits of Sesame Seeds
- Sesame seeds contain phytonutrients as well as phytosterols that help reduce the level of cholesterol in the body.
- Sesame seeds promote weight loss.
- Lignans which are nutrients found in most grains are present in sesame seeds, and they help to normalise blood pressure.
- The magnesium contained in sesame seeds helps in the prevention of diabetics.
- Sesame seeds are generally suitable for respiratory health because they prevent respiratory disorders such as asthma.
- They help to prevent anaemia and other blood diseases.
- Sesame seeds are good sources of dietary fibre which promotes good digestive health.
- Myanmar, Sudan, India, China, and Tanzania contribute significantly to global production of sesame seeds.
- The vitamins and calcium present in sesame seeds make help to maintain healthy bones and teeth.
- Sesame seeds contain the right amount of zinc that generates the collagen necessary for improving the general appearance of the skin.
- In Nigeria, Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Jigawa, Gombe, and Kaduna are some of the states where sesame seeds are grown.
- The presence of methionine in sesame seeds helps in the active detoxification of the liver and improves its functions.
- The presence of Omega-3 fatty acid in sesame seeds significantly enhances eyesight.
- Sesame seeds were first seen in the United States in the 17th century
- Sesame plants can grow as high as 2 to 9 feet.
- Sesame seeds can be eaten with bread and pastries
- In Japan, the most common part of sesame seeds is its oil, used for cooking.
- Most Asian countries use sesame seeds in sushi meals.
Large blue-grey sesame seeds with the classic sesame taste will bring color and delight to your homemade desserts, breads, salads, or spice mixes. Blue is dominant, with some lighter and darker seeds mixed in. I have been planting the bluest seeds for a couple seasons and the mix seems to be getting bluer each year. Beautiful light yellow to light purple flowers attract pollinators and resemble foxgloves. Originally from the former Soviet Union, this seed was donated to the US National Plant Germplasm Database by the Biology Department of Toyama University, Japan in 1960.
Most species of Sesamum are native to Africa, though Sesamum indicum, this cultivated species that we eat, is native to India. Known as benne, it was brought to 17th-century colonial America by enslaved Africans who first popularized the food on this continent.
Days to maturity: 90-110
Seeds per pack: 80
Saving vegetable seeds
You can save vegetable seeds from your garden produce to plant next year. Seed saving involves selecting suitable plants from which to save seed, harvesting seeds at the right time and storing them properly over the winter.
Tomatoes, peppers, beans and peas are good choices for seed saving. They have flowers that are self-pollinating and seeds that require little or no special treatment before storage.
Seeds from biennial crops such as carrots or beets are harder to save since the plants need two growing seasons to set seed.
Plants with separate male and female flowers, like corn and vine crops, may cross-pollinate. It is difficult to keep the seed strain pure.
Popcorn can pollinate a stand of sweet corn from a nearby garden on a windy day. This will affect the flavor of the current sweet corn crop, and a crop grown from these seeds will be neither good sweet corn nor good popcorn.
Insects can cross-pollinate cucumbers, melons, squash, pumpkins and gourds.
Although cross-pollination will not affect the quality of the current crop, seeds from such a cross will grow into vines with fruit unlike that of the parent plant. This often results in inferior flavor and other characteristics.
When saving seed, choose open-pollinated varieties rather than hybrids. If open-pollinated varieties self-pollinate or cross-pollinate with other plants of the same variety, they set seed that grow into plants that are still very similar to the parent plant. These plants bear similar fruit and set seeds that will produce more plants that are similar.
Open-pollinated varieties may be "heirlooms." Gardeners pass these varieties down through the generations, or they may be selections that are more recent.
Some tomato varieties are not hybrids. They are open-pollinated types such as 'Big Rainbow', 'San Marzano' and 'Brandywine'. Seed produced by these varieties will grow into plants very similar to the parent plants, with nearly identical fruit.
Likewise, 'Habanero', 'California Wonder' and 'Corno di Toro' peppers 'Lincoln', 'Little Marvel' and 'Perfection' peas and 'Kentucky Wonder', 'Blue Lake' and 'Tendercrop' beans are all open-pollinated varieties that will come true from seed.
Once you have planted an open-pollinated crop,
- Select the plants from which you want to save seed.
- Choose only the most vigorous plants with the best-tasting fruit as parents for the next year's crop.
- Do not save seed from weak or off-type plants.
Hybrid vegetable plants are products of crosses between two different varieties, combining traits of the parent plants. Sometimes a combination is particularly good, producing plants with outstanding vigor, disease resistance and productivity. Hybrid seeds are generally more expensive as they cost more to produce.
Hybrid plants, such as 'Big Boy', 'Beefmaster' and 'Early Girl' tomatoes will produce viable seed.
- Plants grown from that seed are not identical to the hybrid parents.
- They will be a completely new combination of the good and bad traits of the plants from the initial cross.
- It is impossible to predict just how the seedling plant will perform or what qualities the fruit will have.
- Allow fruits to ripen fully and scoop out the seeds, along with the gel surrounding them, before you eat or cook the tomatoes.
- Put the seeds and gel in a glass jar with some water.
- Stir or swirl the mixture twice a day. The mixture will ferment and the seeds should sink to the bottom within five days.
- Pour off the liquid, rinse the seeds and spread them out to dry on paper towels.
- Allow some fruits to stay on the plants until they become fully ripe and start to wrinkle.
- Remove the seeds from the peppers and spread them out to dry.
Peas and beans
- Save peas and beans by allowing the pods to ripen on the plants until they are dry and starting to turn brown, with the seeds rattling inside.
- This may be as long as a month after you would normally harvest the peas or beans to eat.
- Strip the pods from the plants and spread them out to dry indoors.
- They should dry at least two weeks before shelling, or you can leave the seeds in the pods until planting time.
Keeping your saved seeds
Store seeds in tightly sealed glass containers. You can store different kinds of seeds, each in individual paper packets, together in a large container. Keep seeds dry and cool. A temperature between 32° and 41°F is ideal, so your refrigerator can be a good place to store seeds.
A small amount of silica-gel desiccant added to each container will absorb moisture from the air and help keep the seeds dry. Craft supply stores sell silica gel in bulk for drying flowers.
You can also use powdered milk as a desiccant. Use one to two tablespoons of milk powder from a freshly opened package. Wrap the powder in a piece of cheesecloth or a facial tissue and place it in the container with the seeds. Powdered milk will absorb excess moisture from the air for about six months.
Be sure to label your saved seeds with their name, variety and the date you collected them. It is easy to forget the details by the following spring. Use saved seed within one year. The older the seed the lower the germination and vigor.
Start with clean seeds and transplants
The tomato disease bacterial canker has been found in local community gardens and small vegetable farms in Minnesota. There are other diseases commonly found in home gardens that are more easily managed.
Bacterial canker is difficult to control once established in the garden so it is important to prevent it.
- Bacterial canker can be brought into the garden on infected tomato seed or transplants.
- The bacteria can be attached to the outside of the seed coat or carried within the seed.
- Infected transplants and seeds rarely show obvious symptoms of infection.
There are several steps you can take to improve the chances of starting with healthy seeds or transplants.
- Purchase seeds from a reputable supplier. Most seed companies will not guarantee disease free seed but a good seed company will take steps to reduce the chances of seed borne pathogens.
- If you are saving seed or swapping seed with neighbors, save seeds only from healthy plants.
- In Minnesota it is difficult to grow a completely disease free tomato in the garden. There are many fungal and bacterial pathogens that infect garden tomatoes.
- Choose healthy fruit from healthy plants whenever possible.
If you suspect seed may be contaminated, there are two seed treatment options that can help to clean seed. Both treatments can reduce germination of seed that is old or of poor quality, but have minimal effect on fresh, good quality seed.
- Make a solution with one part bleach (5.25% hypochlorite) and four parts water.
- Add a few drops of dish soap.
- Add seed to the solution and allow it to sit for one minute, stirring occasionally.
- Seed should be able to float freely so that all surfaces come in contact with the solution.
- Pour the solution through a thin mesh sieve or a cheese cloth.
- Rinse the seed in cool running tap water for 5 minutes.
- At this point seed can be directly planted or dried completely on a screen, then stored. Direct planting is preferable.
Bleach seed treatment can be used on any kind of seed including tomato. It will remove pathogens from the surface of the seed coat but not from within the seed. This means for bacterial canker, bleach treatment only partially reduces the risk of infection from contaminated seed.
Hot water treatment
- Soak tomato seeds in water heated to 100 F for 10 minutes.
- Move seed into water heated to 122 F and soak the seeds for 25 minutes.
- Pour the seed through thin meshed sieve or a cheese cloth.
- Rinse the seed in cool running tap water for 5 minutes.
- It is critical that to precisely meet the exact time and temperature requirements. This can be done with a laboratory quality hot water bath. A sous vide, is a cooking device designed specifically to maintain exact temperatures in water and can be used instead of a water bath.
- Finally seed can be directly planted or dried completely on a screen, then stored. Direct planting after treatment is preferable.
Hot water seed treatment is effective in eliminating the majority of bacterial plant pathogens from both the surface of the seed coat and from within the tomato seed.
The time and temperature requirements for hot water treatment varies by plant and some seeds like peas, beans and squash may be seriously injured by hot water treatment. The description above covers only tomato seeds.
Tomato transplants should be purchased from a reputable local grower. Inspect plants carefully and reject any transplants with discoloration of leaves or stems, or any signs of wilting. Avoid any transplants that have been pruned or cut back, as bacterial pathogens can easily spread on tools.
Avoid all types of garden diseases by following the tips in Growing healthy vegetables.