Spices...From Egyptian Tombs to Exotic Islands!

When looking at herbs and spices, it's possible to conjure up images of exotic places and feel transported to fantastic worlds unseen.  I've identified just a few seeds that we derive such spices from, which hold a lot of history and a bit of mystique, and have been used in diverse cultures for thousands of years. 

Some spices have been used in seed form, others have been crushed or processed into a finer powder and yet others are grown to plant form and then  harvested. These seeds have been around for many, many years and have been used by various cultures in different ways.

Cumin, Cuminum cyminum, is an ancient spice thousands of years old.  It originated in Asia and the Mediterranean and is part of the parsley family. Interestingly enough, Cumin was used in the preservation of mummies! The Egyptians cleansed and purified the body of the deceased with a mixture of finely crushed cumin and other spices before the rest of the mummification process continued. Cumin was even used to pay taxes in the ancient times and used as a currency!

Cumin has multiple health uses and culinary uses.  The fresh leaves of the plant can be used in salads in the summer or in soups and hearty stews in the winter.  The seeds can also be used as a grounded spice, however the whole dried seeds are the most commonly used part of the plant, specifically in curries and Indian Dishes.  The cumin seeds are fried in oil at the beginning of a dish - the process called 'taarka'. 

In order to grow Cumin from seed, one needs a hot germination process, so the use of a heating pad is recommended for temperatures to reach between 20 and 30 degrees celsius  Cumin cannot survive in frost and will need to be grown inside, in a sunny position, if in a frost prone area.  Soak the seeds in water for 8 hours before sowing, in order to improve the germination rate.  


Coriander is another ancient spice that was even found in Tutankhamen’s tomb in Egypt! The name Coriander is derived from a Greek word that meant “Stink bug", because of the strong flavour of this spice. It was also used as an anti-venom treatment for snakebites in ancient Egypt.

Coriander has multiple medicinal uses, such as an antioxidant and helps with building a healthy immune system.  There has also been research in the abilities of coriander to treat and repair sun damaged skin. It is always a good idea to take any herb or spice in moderation and consult your doctor if you are taking any chronic medication and you want to add spices or herbs to your health routine.

Coriander is most commonly used to flavour and garnish dishes.  The leaves can be used fresh in salads or toppings or ground up in salsas and sauces.  It can also be used in seed form, as a spice, whole or even gently cracked, in chunky sauces, sizzled in soups, stews or dals, or in pickles. It has a potent, unique flavour and will add a fresh and flavourful twist to any dish, that will become a routine addition going forward.                                                        

Coriander seeds are classified as 'easy to germinate', simply sprinkle your seed at the thickness that you require and then cover lightly with soil and keep moist, with medium warmth.  Coriander plants do not like extremely hot weather and will then go to seed quickly. 

Microgreen trays will do the trick and assorted sizes are available. Another easy way to start is the use of a Seeds For Africa microgreen kit that provides a beginner with all that is needed for a kitchen to be successful with 8 varieties to start off with, which includes coriander.


Cayenne Pepper is also a very ancient spice that originated from Cayenne in the French Guiana. It can be used as a dried grounded spice or flakes as well as fresh chilli!

The cayenne pepper has plenty of health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, headache relief, treating skin conditions and much more. 

Cayenne pepper is a very popular and well-known pepper. It is an exotic, tropical plant and needs a warm climate to germinate and grow in, thus a heat mat maintained at between 20 and 24 degrees, would be ideal for better seed germination.  It needs to be grown separate from other chillies to prevent cross-pollination. The pods must be red and with a hardened skin before harvesting otherwise they are still not ripe enough and will rot when you are trying to keep or dry them. Growing one's own chilli peppers is very satisfying and rewarding and it truly brings something exotic to our lives! 

In fact, with all the above spices, it's a great benefit to grow your own plants and then harvest the plant material for your own use. And you can also simply save the seeds to dry for planting or using in medicinal remedies or cooking...they offer abundant options.

So, as we get ready for spring and the warmer weather, let's bring some spice in our lives!

About the Author

Adele Siemssen is the Seeds for Africa Operations supervisor.  Adele is a qualified horticulturist with 30 years of hands on experience and loves pets and assisting customers to make their garden dreams come true!