Cleaning and Storing Seeds

by Cherry Dodd on October 5th, 2010

If you are collecting seeds just for home use, you do not need to do a perfect cleaning job and remove every last little bit of chaff. The main reason for cleaning seeds is so that they will fit more easily  into the storage paper bag or envelope, and also so you can tell the seeds from the chaff.

The different types of seeds call for different cleaning methods:

Fluffy Seeds - eg. Asters, Goldenrods, Fleabanes, Meadow Blazingstar, Golden-aster, Flodmans Thistle, Groundsels, Pussytoes.
Spread some newspapers on the table. Take the stems out of the bag and gently shake your fingers through the seeds to loosen them so they fall onto the newspapers. Spread the seeds out on newspaper and pick out the leaves, stems and other debris. You don't need to take the fluff off the seeds. Once you have picked out the main leaves and pieces of stem, put the seeds back into a clean paper bag, or envelope, and close and label it. The bag, or envelope can be stored in any cool dry place, such as a fridge, cold storage room, cool basement etc. I usually put all my bags together in a plastic storage box to protect them from mice.

For long term storage you can store your seeds in the freezer. Put the seeds in a plastic freezer bag and squeeze out as much air as possible before closing it. Place this bag into another freezer bag and seal and label before placing it in the freezer. The seeds will keep for several years.

Grasses and Sedges - Treat the same as the fluffy seeds. Run your fingers over the seed heads to dislodge the seeds. Sometimes, as in the case of June Grass, it's very hard to tell the chaff from the seeds. In this case just package everything. In the case of grasses with obvious seeds such as Canada Wild Rye, just take out the debris. You do not have to take off the awns - the bristle like hairs attached to each seed. Store as for fluffy seeds.

Seeds in Capsules -  eg. Harebell, Penstemons or Beardtongues, Alum Root, Wild Blue Flax, Sunflowers, Giant Hyssop, and  Wild Bergamot or Monarda.
Put the the whole seed head in a large, sturdy paper bag, close up the mouth and give the bag a good shake. Then take out the stems and spread the seeds and chaff out onto newspaper and proceed using the same method as you did for the fluffy seeds. Sometimes it helps to see the seeds better if you use a plain white paper plate instead of newspapers. If you find you have a lot of chaff, it sometimes helps to run the seeds through an ordinary kitchen sieve. The seeds fall out of the sieve and most of the chaff is left behind. Another method of separating the chaff is to pile up the seeds and just skim the debris off the pile using a gentle sweeping motion. 
If you have only a few seed heads, and you want to get more of the seeds out, try crushing the seed heads with a rolling pin.

Other types of seeds - A lot of species have seeds that require a unique method.
Gumweed - run your fingers over the seed head to loosen the seeds. Your fingers will become very sticky - have soap and water handy.
Blue-eyed Grass and Nodding onion - use a rolling pin on the the capsules to dislodge the seeds.
Violets - the seeds and capsules will already have separated. Just pick out the empty capsules.
Milkweed - clean outdoors on a windy day. The fluffy seeds are so light that they will float all over your house! Separate the fluff from the seeds.
Gaillardia - Gaillardia seed heads can be prickly so use gloves. Rub the seed head to take off the seeds.


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