Sesame is one of the most important foods and medicines known to mankind. From the earliest centuries it has never lost its vital place in building health, strength and vitality.
From its beginnings on the hot plains of Africa, sesame was a treasured crop. Its history is woven into the cultures of many nations and includes a fascinating tale of trade routes from ancient Egypt into Persia, India, China and beyond.
First recorded in the Ebers Papyrus in 1 500 BC, sesame was grown in Egypt and Babylonia around 2 200 – 538 BC. Marco Polo recorded that the sesame oil he tasted on his travels through ancient Persia was one of the most extraordinarily rich and versatile oils he had ever encountered, with well-documented use in ointments and salves for the treatment of burns, grazes, infected scratches and dry, cracked skin. The exquisite ‘oil of sesame’ was one of the first medicines and elixirs, and perhaps also one of the most important beauty treatments of the ancient world!
Hindu mythology records that sesame seed was blessed by the god Yama. From then on it was regarded as a symbol of immortality, and today it still holds its revered place in many religious ceremonies, devotions and cultures.
Trade in sesame seeds and oils has remained brisk to the present day, but few of us pause to think of the treasure we hold in our hands as we take the packet of seeds off the supermarket shelf. Even fewer think of utilising its incredible value as a fresh organic crop in our gardens, or as a precious sprouted seed!
All through summer this easy-to-grow annual crop can make a fascinating statement in your garden. Dig over a sunny space with plenty of rich compost – the richer the better. Rake it well and scatter the unhulled seeds over the area fairly thinly. Rake again to cover them, and scatter dried leaves over to shade the tiny seeds and protect them from the birds. Keep the area moist with a soft, fine sprinkler and never let it dry out. Watch out for the tiny seedlings, watering daily until they are established. Thereafter water well twice or three times a week, depending upon the weather.
I remember being astonished to see a rich little field of sesame in full flower in a remote, almost uninhabited area in Kenya, neatly tended, awaiting a bountiful harvest with no visible means of watering! This beautiful vision made me realise how important sesame still is in the most unlikely places.
The harvesting of the ripe seed is important. The green capsules all along the stem need to mature to a point of dryness just before the pods split. The whole plant is then pulled up, tied in bundles and hung in a cool, dry area over floors spread with cloths. I tie big paper packets over the ripening seed heads to catch my precious seeds, or spread the ripe branches on table tops on big sheets of thick brown paper, well covered with cheesecloth to protect against dust, draughts and even mice. Store the ripe seeds in glass screw-top jars.
I love sprouting unhulled sesame seed. In a sprouting tray or finely woven flat basket, I soak half a cupful for about 6 hours. Then I rinse them off by pouring cold water through them. Morning and evening I rinse, and within 3 days in summer they are sprouting, crisp and delicious. I rinse the hulls away by submerging the basket or tray and floating them out gently. The sprouted seeds are delicious in salads and stir fries, or juiced with melons, apples or pineapple, and I do this every 4 to 5 days to have a continuous supply of sprouts.
USING SESAME SEEDS
Until a mere two or three decades ago, an ‘oilman’, resident in virtually every village in India, would visit each housewife regularly to ‘cold-press’ her preferred seeds – mustard, fenugreek, coriander or sesame. The health-building oil was fresh and palatable, and never heated or rancid. Imagine having time to grow your own oil plants, and someone to cold-press them right there for you. What a charming luxury!
Sesame oil is still an ingredient in many Chinese and Arab recipes today, and it can be stored for long periods without turning rancid – however, it’s safest to keep it in the fridge.
Add 1 tablespoon of hulled sesame seeds to your daily muesli or fruit and yoghurt to treat constipation, stimulate the circulation, and soothe and calm the nervous system. This will also stimulate breast milk in nursing mothers and will soothe and calm anxiety, tension and worry. It strengthens the heart, is a good cough mixture, eases respiratory ailments including asthma, lowers high blood pressure, cleanses the kidneys and bladder, and helps detoxify an overloaded liver.
For blurred vision and dizziness due to anaemia and for tinnitus – ringing noises in the ears – a daily tablespoonful of sesame seeds and sprouts is amazing in its efficacy. Hulled sesame seeds are incredibly valuable as a general tonic. Mix them in equal quantities with hulled sunflower seeds, hulled pumpkin pips, flax seeds and sultanas and sprinkle them over breakfast porridge, plain Bulgarian yoghurt or a fruit salad, and you’ll find a new energy and vitality. Add some chopped almonds for exam stress. Use sesame seeds in pancake batter, muffin recipes and biscuit dough, make savoury biscuits with this potent mixture and serve them with cream cheese for a quick energy snack, and even add the seeds to salad dressings.
Try the precious sesame oil for cracked, dry heels or ageing, dry, flaky skin, or rub it into the scalp to treat dandruff and falling hair – and you’ll be amazed at how your nails will respond too! Massage a little oil into those wrinkles twice a week and watch them smooth out.
Rich in polyunsaturated fats and oils as well as monounsaturated oils, sesame-rich tahini and halvah are real health foods. With its vitamins B1, B2 and E, copper, iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, as well as a lignin called sesamin, which is an excellent anti- oxidant and has cholesterol-lowering effects, sesame has to be one of the most valuable health foods of all time. No wonder the pharaohs needed clay vessels of sesame seed for the afterlife!
Make sesame tea with ¼ cup fresh seeds, either hulled or unhulled, lightly crushed. Pour 1 cup of boiling water over the seeds, stand for 5 minutes stirring frequently, then sip slowly.
SESAME BUTTER SPREAD
This superb spread is better than butter or peanut butter on homemade bread, scones or muffins.
In a seed grinder, grind:
- 1 cup of hulled sesame seeds
- ½ cup hulled sunflower seeds
- ½ cup flax seeds
I find it easiest to mix them all together and grind a little at a time. Mix in 1 – 2 teaspoons of cinnamon powder and a pinch of sea salt (Himalayan salt is ideal). Add a little raw honey, enough to make a paste, and finally 2 teaspoons of sesame oil. Mix well and store in a glass screw-top jar. Try a little mixed into hot oat porridge, or into warm homemade custard!
For organically grown sesame seeds ready for posting anywhere in the country, contact the Margaret Roberts Herbal Centre.