Seeds and Plant Sources: Part 1
It can be difficult to find the right herbal seed and plant sources for a medicinal forest garden! But help is at hand in this two-part blog on (1) seed suppliers and (2) plant nurseries.
Seeds and plant sources
Locating plants for your medicinal planting project can be a challenge, especially if you are seeking medicinal trees and shrubs. In most cases you want the authentic species, which can be harder to source than an ornamental version. And you want to be sure that each plant has every chance of success. Sometimes you may be looking to grow your own plants from seed and at other times you need to find a supplier of plants ready to be planted out. Here are some suggestions from my experience in developing a medicinal forest garden, in this two-part blog on (1) seed suppliers and (2) plant sources. Of course this is not intended to be a comprehensive listing but a starter list to get going in your plant search!
What sort of seed supplier?
You need to be sure the seed supplier is able to provide what you want, and here are some things to look for:
First, check catalogue listings for the Latin name to confirm the species you want.
Second, look for provenance information such as the source country for the seed.
Third, check for information relating to seed germination such as need for stratification in cold or other conditions.
Fourth, check shipping availability and any additional charges for tax or customs clearance.
Where I would start?
A comprehensive seed supplier is B&T World Seeds. Based in France but able to ship to most places, they offer a very wide range of seeds which can be priced in small or large quantities. You may also find that organic-sourced seed is available of some species. Plus these people offer helpful guidance online about germinating different species.
If you are looking to grow some hard-to-find species recommended in permaculture and agroforestry, then an excellent source is the Agroforestry Research Trust where the online shop offers seeds for many useful plants, including medicinal trees such as sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata) and many more.
Located in Europe and North America?
In continental Europe there are a range of sources that look interesting. The Balkan Ecology Project based in Bulgaria has extensive listings of permaculture plants and seeds, plus lots of useful information. Another supplier is Magic Garden Seeds in Germany and they have a wide selection of medicinal seeds. In Ireland, Sandeman Seeds offer many trees, shrubs and herbs, including seeds from Mediterranean to tropical sources, tree seeds such as juniper (Juniperus communis) in 10 g or 250 g quantities. In USA look for Strictly Medicinal who offer organic seeds, for example Virginian witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), and Sheffield’s Seeds offer small to large quantities of seeds such as black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa).
If you have sheltered space to grow less hardy plants, have a look at Jungleseeds based in South Oxfordshire who offer a range of tropical seeds plus useful greenhouse equipment for propagation in warmth including heat mats and thermostat controls. Their seed list includes lemon eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora) – not really a frost hardy plant but can certainly be grown in a pot in a greenhouse. Another tropical and unusual seeds place to check out is Rare Palm Seeds which offers chasteberry (Vitex agnus castus) seed.
Ground cover and other herbs
Chiltern Seeds are a large supplier of seeds, offering a huge range of vegetable and flower seeds. They offer lots of species suitable for herbal ground cover and at good prices including wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca), yarrow (Achillea millefolium). Some seeds from further afield are also available including American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) and Virginian witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana).
Larger amounts of seed?
Some websites offer variable quantities of seed. Tree Seed Online in Oxfordshire have good prices for larger quantities, a wide range of plants for ornamental and other purposes, including coniferous species, climbers, and fruiting trees such as black mulberry (Morus nigra). The seed is sold in multiples of 5 or 25 grams and more, and instructions are provided.
If you are looking for UK-sourced seed and native species then Forestart have a good range of UK-sourced tree seed including alder buckthorn (Frangula alnus). And Emorsgate Seeds offer a great range of British wild flower and grass species, including medicinals such as wild carrot (Daucus carota) and they give the location of the seed source, offering ordering in multiples of 1, 10, 100g or more.
Culinary and tea herbs?
There are many herb suppliers, and Jekka McVicar’s seeds collection has a large range of herb varieties. For a sunny spot, there is a great selection of herb seeds including purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and St Johns wort (Hypericum perforatum). Also available here are seeds of spicy pepper Zanthoxylum shrubs. The Real Seed Company are best for vegetables but do carry some good culinary herbs like basil varieties and also lemon balm. Victoriana Nursery gardens have a variety of herbs including a mixed collection gift pack of seeds for herb teas (fennel, lemon balm, thyme, oregano, lemon grass, chicory). And the Seed Co-operative offer a great range of culinary herbs.
Adding to this list
If you can recommend other good quality sources and suppliers then do send in details so that we can provide an updated list later in the year. We would love to hear about seed saving initiatives for medicinal plants. And if you would like to explore seed saving have a look at Chapter 4 on propagation in The Medicinal Forest Garden Handbook.