Green Recovery - Home

The SeedZoo™ Project

  • Print

indexRichters is proud to introduce SeedZoo™, a project to preserve traditional and indigenous food plants from around the world. Teaming up with botanical explorers and ethnobotanists, we are searching for rare and endangered food plants that home gardeners can grow and enjoy, and help to preserve.

Of the 7,000 or so species of food plants known to man, only 140 are cultivated commercially, and of those, most of the world’s supply of food depends on just 12. Even as the world increasingly speaks about food security, incredible varieties that are known only to a single tribe or in small and remote localities are being lost forever.

We sent plant explorers across the world in search of rare beans, squashes, melons, greens, and grains. They have been to the jungles of Borneo, to small farms in Japan and Italy, and to the bustling food markets of Africa. In the coming months they will visit India, Vietnam and beyond. Many of the rare and exotic plants that they bring back don’t even have names and can only be called landraces - plants with unique features found in only one region or sometimes in just one village.

Often our explorers can bring back only a handful of seeds, sometimes fewer than 100. Because these seeds are so rare and from such remote regions of the world, they are sold on a “first come, first served” basis. Once they sell out they may never be available again. So if you see a variety that you like, do not hesitate to order it or you may be disappointed. The SeedZoo™ variety list is only available online and will change often so check our SeedZoo website regularly, or follow us on Twitter.

Join us in this grand project to preserve a part of the world’s food diversity. Try some of the planet’s treasures, and enjoy the culinary adventure. And please save some seeds and share them with your friends.



 Why SeedZoo?

This video presentation by Conrad Richter explains why the SeedZoo project was started and why gardeners should grow these rare and endangered food plants in their gardens.


Introducing Plant Explorer Joseph Simcox

In this video plant explorer Joseph Simcox talks about food biodiversity and how, through the SeedZoo project, gardeners can grow some of the world’s threatened food plants in their gardens. By growing these plants, and sharing seeds with friends and family, Simcox believes gardeners can have a real impact on saving our food plant diversity.



Nombo Giant Philippine Okra

A favourite of the Phillipines this okra produces long skinny smooth cylindrical pods that come to a quill-like tip. Pods are best when around 6-7 inches long. The plants grow to a manageable 5-6 feet tall. The Filipino community in Hawaii raves about this variety and many people there are pushing to introduce it into larger cultivation as a market crop. Like other okras it can be used as a steamed vegetable, and like the famous gumbo of Louisiana it can be added to stews and give flavor and body. Like all okra, it needs moisture, good drainage and warmth. Order it now!





Sweet Russian Striped Melon

This little orange and yellow striped melon from the former Soviet Union has an incredible aroma, and is very sweet if grown in the right conditions. It needs hot dry weather to bring out its full potential. Applying epsom salts a couple times during the season will increase sweetness as well. A beautiful little melon perfect for one person. Very vigorous vines loaded with fruit. Order it now!






Monkeyface Pepper

Hot chile pepper with a fruity, almost mango-like flavour. Although the heat is definitely there, the taste is not edgy or bitter like some other hot peppers. After the initial hot and spicy kick, the flavour lingers well after the heat subsides. The indented yellow fruits, 11cm long, vaguely suggest the faces of monkeys. This variety came to us from Sweden where chile enthusiasts apparently like their heat to come in fun shapes and flavours! Order it now!





Guyana Pumpkin

This pumpkin is elongated, ribbed, and pointed. Its colour varies from orange to dark green with beautiful light green stipples. Guyana pumpkin is popularly consumed and has deep orange flesh and a rich flavour. It is eaten in stews, soups, curries, fritters, and often with shrimp or salt fish. Pumpkin leaf is used to treat hemorrhages in north western Guyana, the pureed flesh has been used as a poultice to treat headaches and tumours, and the seed oil is used to make red skin spots disappear. These squash seeds were found in the bustling Bourda Market in Georgetown in the spring of 2012. This moschata type ‘Guyana Pumpkin’ was the only type of squash on offer there and the only type seen while travelling in north eastern Guyana. Order it now!





Pomeroon Bird Pepper

This bird pepper was found growing in a passion fruit orchard near the Pomeroon River, in Guyana, South America. Guyanese bird pepper bushes can grow up to 3m tall and are copious producers of small, elongated, hot, red peppers that are highly sought after for use in sauces, curries, conserves, and dips. The bird pepper has been used in traditional medicine throughout the Guianas to strengthen the heart, as a laxative, to treat hook-worm nematode infections, as an ingredient in curare arrow and blowpipe poisons, and as a topical treatment for boils. This bird pepper (probably Capsicum frutescens) is not to be confused with bird peppers from Mexico or the southern U.S. (Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum) which can also grow as shrubs but tend to have round fruit. Both are called ‘bird peppers’ because birds - attracted to the tasty fruit -- deposit seeds along their flyways, acting as the primary dispersal agents. Order it now!





Mae Hong Son Orange Striped Melon

While traveling in a remote area of Mae Hong Son, in Thailand, our plant explorers found this nice lady with a roadside stand selling large orange striped melons. The creamy green flesh was not terribly sweet, but the melons were very healthy. Because the area is very hot and humid, lesser varieties of melons probably succumb to a myriad of fungal and bacterial diseases. This melon likely has extraordinary disease resistance and could be an important source of disease resitance genes for melon breeders. Order it now!






Zhuang Zhou Light Green Oblong Melon

A strange melon from Zhuong Zhuo, China. The fruit is rather pointed, somewhat oblong with an irregular surface. The skin is light green and the flesh is orange. These melons are hardly known outside of China. Unfortunately, we do not have a picture of the melon to show you. Order it now!







Zhuang Zhou Long Light Green Melon

A very unusual fresh eating sweet melon that is probably related distantly to a unique group of melons called "Conomon". Although most of the conomon melons are yellow and so sweet that they almost have a saccharine after-taste, these melons differ in that they are only mildly sweet. Other varieties from Zhuang Zhou are known for their edible skin -- skin so thin that you can eat the melons like apples. Unfortunately we do not have a picture of the melon to show you. Order it now!






Gori Giant Bean

This beautiful large bean was collected in Gori, a city in the Georgian Republic. The city has been on the crossroads of major transit routes since medieval times, and has been occupied repeatedly by the Mongols, Ottomans, Persians, and Russians. The most recent occupation was by the Russians during the 2008 South Ossetian War. Perhaps for a city with such a history it is not surprising that one can find many local varieties of Georgian favourites such as squashes and beans. The bean diversity in Georgia is an amazing because did beans did originate there. Order it now!





Cetriolo Mezzo Lungo Verde Polignano

A stout dark green cucumber from that is probably well adapted to hot weather. It is originally from the area around the town of Polignano, in the Puglia region of southern Italy. Order it now!







Cicoria a Foglia Frastagliate

A specialty variety with thick succulent stems from southern Italy. These stems are the part used in salads. Order it now!








Cicoria Catalogna Puntarelle di Galatina

A unique thin leaved chicory that is raised for salads in the Puglia region of southern Italy. Used in mixed salads to give a bit of body and character because of its slightly bitter flavor. Quick growing and productive. Order it now!







Cicoria Puntarella a Foglia Stretta

This is a thin leaved chicory raised for salads in the Puglia region of southern Italy. It is used in mixed salads to give a bit of body and character owing to its slightly bitter flavour. Quick growing and very productive. Order it now!







Cicoria Rossa Italiana

The diversity of endive, or common chicory, in Italy is amazing. One finds forms ranging from stout and deep red, to mottled pink and white, to straggly long green, and straggly green with red stems, like the one offered here. Chicories are wonderful for salads. They add a touch of bitterness that is exquisite. Order it now!








Carosello Tondo di Fasano

Most Italians in northern Italy are not familiar with the Carosello melons of the south. Also known as "cucumber melons", they appear to be related to the Metki melons of the Middle East. Carosello melons are used like cucumbers in salads and raw vegetable dishes. This variety from Fasano is round and bulkier than other varieties but has the same "perfumed" tasty green flesh. Order it now!







Mottled Spurreda Melon

This unique "cucumber melon" is from the area around the historic city of Lecce, in southern Italy. The fruits are mottled dark and light green and are a preferred salad vegetable during the summer months. The fruits are harvested while young and sliced like cucumbers and added to salads and other favourite summer dishes. Order it now!







White Bari Tortarello Melon

This is similar to the "Serpent Melons" of Lebanon and the Middle East. This "Metki" melon is actually one of the "cucumber melons" that are so popular in southern Italy. Slightly larger than other varieties it is a prolific plant that produces very good quality cucumber-like fruits. Order it now!







Carosello Tondo Liscio di Manduria

Carosello melons are a time-honoured crop of southern Italy. They come in many forms, and sometimes the names get confusing. Most of them come from Italy although a few are found in the Middle East as well. They are raised like melons but harvested and used like cucumbers, and they are excellent in salads. This variety is one of the standard varieties with round fruits and smooth, mostly hairless skin. Order it now!





This article was originally published at Richters. Read the original article. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on





Tashkent Brown & White Bean

These beans were sold to us by an Azerbaijani woman who said that they came from farmers in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. This is a very impressive large sized bean that seems to be perfectly suited for cold cooked bean salads and soups. The habit of the bean is not known, it could be a bush or it could be a vine. Order it now!







Hashuli Brown & White Bean

This bean was offered by a farmer in the main Tbilisi market in Georgia. The farmer said that they came from a village called Hashuli and that they were very special beans. We could only acquire a small quantity. Please grow these beans and share them with friends. Order it now!







Surami Dry Pea

In the market in Zestafoni, a village in the central Asian republic of Georgia, a stout red-faced woman was standing offering all kinds of "garden" delights, including these peas old fashioned soup peas. Dry soup peas were once common throughout Europe and in America during the colonial period. Peas are of prime food value and make for hearty soups and good eating during the long winter months. Order it now!






Kare Grandma Bean

This spectacularly beautiful bean was collected in the Gori market in the Central Asian republic of Georgia. Georgians love beans and they grow lots of them. It is suspected that most of the beans collected in Georgia are pole types. After planting in your garden it will be quite easy to determine the habit of these beans: if after a few weeks they start to "reach" for the sky, all you have to do is stake them and let them do their magic. Most pole beans are quite prolific and fast maturing so they are great "experimental" plants for the home garden. Order it now!






Tashkent Bean

Collected in the market of Tbilisi, Georgia. An Azerbaijani woman who sold us this beautiful bean said that she got it from Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The bean has a ying-yang like pattern of white and rose and magenta. The growth habit is unknown, but if the young plants start vining after a few weeks, simple staking will ensure success. Order it now!






Ijevan #1 Red Runner Bean

This is the first of two varieties of runner beans offered by a tiny farm woman in Ijevan, Armenia. Order it now!








Volta White Maize

White maize or corn is ubiquitous throughout the world. The impact of maize on the human condition is impossible to overstate: maize is responsible for the wellbeing and survival of billions of people on the planet that we share. Each region has its own varieties or landraces that are adapted to local conditions. This landrace is commonly grown throughout the Volta River region of Ghana. Virtually every meal features this maize in one form or another, whether it is akple or kenkey used to scoop food out of soup bowls, or it is in stews such as ayibli made with beans and groundnuts, or it is made into porridge for breakfast, or to prepare alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks called aliha. The versatility of white maize in the local diet is astounding and, for the local Ewe people, it is impossible to imagine life without it. Every square meter of growing space is used to grow it, even in open rooms of buildings under construction as long as there is soil, light and water! This Volta White landrace is a starch corn for dry processing and it is not eaten fresh like sweet corn, although it is sometimes roasted or boiled and eaten on the cob. Order it now!




Avakli Bean

A traditional favourite of the Ewe people of the Volta region of West Africa. Harvest time is eagerly anticipated when the beans, along with maize and groundnuts, are cooked in seasonal dishes such as ayibli and ayikple. The mottled beans are commonly cooked whole or they are first roasted and ground and then cooked to make nutritious stews and breakfast porridge. Drought resistant and sweeter tasting than other beans. Traditionally planted in May or June and harvested in August. Order it now!






Torkuviahe Bean

An old variety grown by the Ewe people of West Africa. As far as we know only a few farmers in the Lake Volta region are still growing it. Beautiful small red beans are borne in long straight pale-yellow pods. Traditionally cooked in stews or simply cooked with rice and served with any spicy fish, meat or vegetable sauce on top. Can also be eaten like string beans when young and tender.Order it now!







Purple Rain Bush Bean

The late Robert Lobitz, a bean collector and breeder extraordinaire, developed and named this variety in honour of fellow Minnesotan, Prince, whose song "Purple Rain," and album and movie of the same title, solidified his status as a pop music icon. The original material for this bean came from a sample of beans that Lobitz received from a seed bank in Germany and from that he selected this unique variety. It is a productive bush variety that matures early, and as Robert was always quick to insist, it is beautiful too! So much did Robert admire the beauty of beans that he used to say "Beans are a poor man’s jewels." Order it now!





Munks Moroccan Garbanzo

This is the result of a search for the largest "brown" coloured garbanzos around. Coming from Morocco, this variety is perfect for hummus and all those good things that one makes with regular garbanzos. Order it now!







Opal Creek Beauty Snap Pea

This will make a pea lover out of you! The pods are almost a pastel-lemon yellow blend which makes them very attractive in mixed salads. When combined with other coloured snap peas like Purple Magnolia they add a decidedly exotic element to any salad or stir fry dish. The flavor is as good as they look! The vines grow up to 6 feet high, and are said to resist heat. The selection was named for an area of old growth forest in the northwest United States where the variety was first developed. Order it now!






Turkish Rocket

Turkish rocket is a member of the cabbage family. It comes back year after year and provides young tender leaves which are suited to cooking much like mustard greens. The larger older leaves tend to be too bitter for most palates, but the young leaves are very tasty. The flower stems and buds can also be harvested and are actually "sweetish," lending themselves to replace cabbage in recipes and as side dishes. A very hardy plant that likes sun and a good amount of water. Order it now!







Rose Creek Beauty Snap Bean

Variety developed by the late bean collector Robert Lobitz. Always a champion of the little guy, and of local communities of his native Minnesota, he liked to name his varieties after nearby localities. It is a early maturing bush bean and is very productive. A favourite snap bean for soups and bean salads. Order it now!






Green Beauty Snow Pea

An amazing snow pea with giant pods, still tender up to 6 inches long! The vines are vigorous, reaching heights up to 8 feet. The pods are used in stir fries, salads and just as a plain delicious snack! Order it now!






This article was originally published at Richters. Read the original article. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on





Chinese Hami Sweet Melon

The Chinese love melons and have hundreds of varieties. The "Hami" melons are popular in China for their sweet crunchiness. These melons are grown mostly in central and western China. This variety is about a foot long (25cm) and has a lime green-yellow skin, with mottled darker green stripes. This is a delicious melon that is rarely found outside of China. Order it now!







Small Striped Melon

This small melon is unknown in the West. Small melons have been grown in places like India and Pakistan for centuries. They are good keepers and pleasant tasting, and they are used in salads or are eaten fresh. This landrace is from the remote southwestern part of Madagascar. Because the people there still do not use chemicals in their agriculture, we believe this melon is better able to withstand pests and disease than the modern Western varieties. Order it now!







Malagasy Corn

In Southern Madagascar there is a phenomena that occurs at the end of the big rainy season: the appearance of corn trees! Locals harvest their corn crops, which are still raised traditionally, the cobs are carefully harvested and the husk is not removed, instead, they use the husk to tie the corn on the cob to branches or other " high objects" to protect the crop from rodents. Often this tradition results in stunning scenery: trees laden with corn on the cob. See photos! The form being offered here is a local red form being grown in an especially hot and dry area, suggests that it has built in tolerance against drought!Order it now!





Voatavu Cowpea

Many years ago our intrepid plant explorer, Joseph Simcox, was given some impressive cowpeas from Madagascar. The shape was almost round and somewhat flat, a shape that was completely different from that of almost all other cowpeas. Years later when driving on a desolate road in southwest Madagascar he came upon the same distinctively shaped seeds. This unique form is only found in Madagascar, and where it came from, or how it first came to be, is still a mystery. The centre of biodiversity for cowpeas is in Zambia and Zimbabwe, so cowpeas probably came from there. But after centuries of cultivation on the island of Madagascar, the worlds fourth largest, it seems that this form developed in relative isolation from the rest of the world. As Joe says, this is a really cool bean to grow and share with friends.Order it now!





Voatavu Bean

This large white bean is grown locally in the small village of Voatavu, in Madagascar. Beans are popular in most parts of Madagascar in stews and soups. Beans such as this white bean were undoubtedly introduced by the French during colonization and became popular food staples ever since. But over the years the original French varieties gradually evolved, becoming distinct landraces adapted to the local conditions and local preferences. Order it now!







Malagasy Bambara Groundnut

These bambara beans are raised by rural farmers in southwestern Madagascar. Local women spend their hours chatting away with neighbours while shelling the beans. The reward: shelled bambara beans are cooked in a delicious stew made with the greens of breda (Spilanthes acmella), one of the favourite dishes of the Malagasy people. Bambara beans are quite hardy and drought-tolerant but they do require a long warm growing season like peanuts. Kids can have fun raising them in pots in the windowsill as a novelty.Order it now!






Uganda Pea Eggplant

A wild or cultivated eggplant with small fruits the size of peas. The "peas" are gathered at the immature green stage and eaten fresh as a vegetable. When fruits mature and turn bright red they are quite attractive but they are not eaten. Only the immature fruits are eaten. The flavour is bitter, but agreeably so. They are often sold in the markets. Similar varieties of pea eggplants grow in other parts of Africa. In Ghana, local varieties are used as an appetizer. In Cameroon a local dish called nkwi is made with the fruits. The fruits are also considered medicinal and are ground fresh or dried for high blood pressure. Plants can get huge, up to 3m/10ft tall but they wont likely get as big in temperate gardens. Needs to be started early indoors for late summer harvest. Order it now!





Makata Bambara Groundnut

The bambara groundnut has been cultivated since at least the 14th century when it was first recorded by Arabs in West Africa. Outside of Africa the bambara groundnut is virtually unknown even though it is an important staple crop in Africa. This variety of the bambara groundnut comes from Makata, a village in Uganda where the locals farm this crop in the traditional way by shoring up the plants to make harvest easier. Like the peanut, the pod and seeds ("groundnuts") form underground, and are harvested by pulling up the entire plant at the end of the growing season. The seeds are an attractive glossy brown, often patterned, and they contain a complete protein. The seeds have a rich taste, and are cooked like any other dry beans until tender, though this can take longer than other beans. Groundnuts are very nutritious, with about 20% protein and an almost complete amino acid profile, unlike most other legumes. No wonder the groundnut is called "a seed that satisfies" in Africa. The plants are quite hardy and drought-tolerant but they do require a long warm growing season like peanuts. Kids can have fun raising them in pots as a novelty.Order it now!



Ugandan Foxtail Millet

Millet may be the first grain cultivated by man, predating even rice. Man learned to cultivate it in East Asia about 10,000 years ago, paving the way for the shift from a nomadic hunting and gathering to a more settled lifestyle based on farming. It is still one of the important grains in Africa grown for a variety of uses, including brewing, cooked staple use, and as a cereal and porridge. This particular variety is ground for flour and used to thicken stews and cooked with vegetable greens as a hearty and rich porridge. Foxtail millet does well in well-drained soil in sunny locations but needs a long warm summer in order to produce a good crop. It produces reliably in the southern U.S. states but in the cooler, more temperate northern zones it must be started in pots indoors and transplanted outdoors after the danger of frost is past. Very drought resistant. Order it now!





White Ntula

Ntula is a traditional food plant of Africa, similar to the gilo eggplants of Brazil. Little known outside Africa, these small eggplants are attracting attention because of their nutritional qualities and their potential to boost food security. Eaten cooked or raw, the small fruits are an acquired taste as they are somewhat bitter. Gilo fruits in all their various forms and colorations are very popular in Brazil, West and East Africa, and this attractive white form from Uganda is one of the many types available. Ntula fruits are delicious cooked with chicken, lamb, or lentils. Cynthia Bertelsen´s recipe, Spicy Pumpkin and Eggplant Stew, is an inspired adaptation of a traditional West African dish featuring gilo eggplants. Ntula seeds should be started early and transplanted to the garden after the danger of frost is past. Order it now!





Ganxet Bean

This white bean has has a distinctive hooked shape that remains even after cooking. Its incredibly delicate skin and buttery texture have made this variety an enduring favourite of the Valls-Maresme region of Catalonia in northeast Spain. Genetic studies suggest that the Ganxet bean was first brought to Catalonia from Mexico in the early 1800s. Due to years of unscrupulous business practices the variety lost its original form. But today the Ganxet bean is a protected variety and is enjoying a resurgence of interest. The vines are not said to be terribly prolific and it is slow to mature, but its eating qualities are unrivaled and authentic beans fetch high prices in the markets. Traditionally it is eaten with sausage from la Garriga, or it is served in bean salads made with bacon, but it is also excellent in soups and stews and many other bean dishes. Typically, the seeds are sown in July and harvested in November, but in temperate North American gardens it needs to be started earlier. 120 days. Order it now!




Fort Portal Mixed Bean

Our intrepid plant explorer found this unique mix of beans in the Fort Portal market in Uganda. The colours range from dark purple black to olive green. The "bean ladies" selling these beans likely mix beans from different local growers, each growing a distinctive form. We believe that if the different beans are separated by colour it should be easy to recreate the original varieties grown by the farmers. Order it now!







Mottled Grey Bean

These beans were collected at a market near Fort Portal in Uganda. The "bean ladies" there do all the field work growing and harvesting these beans, and selling them at the market. Most of them get up as early as 4 am on market days to catch buses to shuttle their harvests to market. Beans, although not originally from Africa, have become a favourite staple in the moist cooler regions of the continent. The importance of the diversity of bean crops in Africa cannot be overestimated: almost all of them trace back to the colonists who brought them from Europe more than a hundred years ago. Many of these beans exist today only because African farmers are still growing them while in Europe they were lost. Order it now!





Piselle di L’Ago

This rare green pea is from Italy. The name means "peas of the needle". Grow as any shell pea: sow direct in the garden in spring. Order it now!









A creeping or climbing tropical vine found growing throughout southeastern Asia, from India to Malaysia. Our seeds were collected in Borneo. The vines can reach 5m (15ft) bearing fruits 5cm long and 2cm across. As the fruits ripen they change from green to a brilliant orange or red. The unripe green fruits are edible and are deseeded and candied or made into a condiment. In Laos, however, the ripe fruits are used as a fish poison, and in Malaysia the leaves are used to counteract the poisonous effects of the ripe fruits. In Vietnam the leaves are eaten as a vegetable. Needless to say this is one food plant that needs to be treated with utmost respect! It reminds us of the Japanese culinary obsession with the dangerous pufferfish! The plant is also considered medicinal throughout where it is found: in Thailand, for instance, it is used as a blood tonic and for the treatment of gout, fever, stomach nausea and poor appetite; in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, it is used as a "post-partum remedy". Order it now!




Gialet della Val Belluna Bean

This beautiful, sulphur-yellow variety was once a gift from Pope Clement VII to a cleric. In 1532, the cleric, humanist, and writer, Pierio Valeriano Bolzani, received the beans for some work he had done for the Pope and, according to legend, he was to distribute the variety to the needy. Bolzani sowed the seeds in his native region of Val Belluno in northern Italy, and so began the cultivation of beans in Italy. Over the centuries a vast array of bean varieties have emerged in Italy, but today Gialet is still recognized as one of the best and most flavourful. Sulphur yellow before cooking, it is very tender, with the skin almost dissolving during cooking. Despite its beauty and delicate and distinct flavor, it remains cultivated by just small handful of farmers in the region of Val Belluna. Order it now!





This article was originally published at Richters. Read the original article. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on