An heirloom is something valuable especially when we’re talking about plants. Heirloom fruits and vegetables come from seeds from a natural source exactly the way nature intended them.
Today while perusing the aisles of different potted plants and herbs, I saw quite the collection of both hybrid and heirloom plants. While looking at a few heirloom tomato plants, I happened to overhear two women nearby who were asking each other what heirloom meant and what the difference was. Neither woman knew. It made me realize that most people probably don’t know what the term heirloom on their produce, plants, or seeds means!
Put simply, an heirloom plant or seed is one that is in its traditional form straight from Mother Nature, without any modifications from modern growing methods. They have not been grown using any crossbreeding methods. These seeds come from a natural source, such as a seed from a piece of fruit, and are passed down from generation to generation meaning that the seeds produced in growing are the seeds used to continue to grow that food; many heirloom plants are grown from seeds over fifty years old! Farmers tend to save the seeds from their best plants. This is one reason why heirloom foods can vary quite a bit in size, shape, and color.
Additionally, heirloom seeds are open-pollinated, which means that they are pollinated naturally by bees, insects, and by pollen being carried in the wind; there has been no artificial assistance. Non-heirloom seeds are often closed pollinated.
Put simply; there are three specific traits that set apart heirloom plants from their hybrid counterparts: age, pollination, and quality. Heirloom seeds often are several years old, are open pollinated, and are of top quality, coming from the best plants of the crop. Because of the superior quality of heirloom plants, the flavor of these plants is also usually far better.
When we think of seeds and gardening, heirloom methods are the traditional techniques we typically envision. Heirloom plants usually are grown in smaller crops and are subjected to traditional techniques of growing rather than harsher commercial methods. Hybrid plants (which comprise the majority of the produce on our shelves today) are tampered with and are modified to look the same and to resist insects to produce a greater yield. But, in doing this, we can lose true nourishment of the food as we alter how nature intended the food to be. Interestingly, most hybrid seeds are sterile and can’t be passed down for future use.
Some of the most common heirloom foods that you can find at local health food stores or farmer’s markets include tomatoes, herbs, zucchini, melons, squash, carrots, and potatoes. Some health food stores such as Whole Foods tend to carry some heirloom seed options, but typically you can find the greatest assortment at your local farmer’s market or local farmers themselves.
A hybrid seed is not the same thing as a genetically modified seed or plant, however. Hybrid seeds have been cross-pollinated with another plant’s seed in an effort to create an offspring that will have the strongest traits possible. It’s a more natural process than the extreme methods of genetic modification.
The most important plant, seed, or food to make sure to avoid are the genetically modified ones. Especially considering the fact that genetic modification has not been proven to be safe, getting as much of our food, plants, herbs, and seeds from heirloom sources can be a great way of ensuring the most nutrition for the body without any of the toxic burdens. Mother Nature created plants and seeds the way she did for a reason, and the more man interferes, the more problems we’re likely to see.
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