Edible pumpkin seeds that we see in the marketplace most often come from the cultivar of the squash plant Cucurbita pepo. Five species of curcurbita are grown world-wide for their edible fruit, and pumpkin is one member of this family. The cultivation of pumpkins is believed to have begun in Central America, as evidenced by the presence of pumpkin seeds in Mexican caves dating back to 7000 BC. The Aztecs included pumpkin seeds in ritual offerings as well as food. Other indigenous groups used both the seed and its oil in sauces, and they baked whole pumpkins in pit ovens.
Pumpkins were not confined to Central America however. Pumpkin seeds were highly valued by many North American tribes – the Navajos used them to relieve burn pain, Cherokee used them to treat edema, gout and kidney stones, and Zunis used them to rid the body of parasites such as tapeworms and round worms.
As the Spanish made their way into North America, they became acquainted with pumpkins, and took plants back to Europe. From there, these winter squash continued to spread across the world. By the 17th century, pumpkin seeds had been incorporated into Chinese medicine. The Chinese thought of the pumpkin as being a symbol of prosperity and wealth and was dubbed the “Emperor of the Garden”. Back in the United States, by 1863 the US pharmacopoeia listed pumpkin seeds as official medicine for the treatment of intestinal parasites. This listing continued until early 1936.
Nutritionally, we can now see proof that the many thousands of years of therapeutic use of pumpkin seeds was justified. Just one ounce of seeds contain 18% RDI of vitamin K, 33% RDI of phosphorus, 42% RDI of manganese, 37% RDI magnesium, 23% RDI of iron, 14% RDI of Zinc and 19% RDI of copper. They are rich in antioxidants, as well as iron, zinc, and magnesium.
In one study inflammation was reduced in rats with arthritis, when they were given pumpkin seed oil. A different group of rats in this same study received anti-inflammation drugs and experienced negative side effects; the rats given pumpkin seed oil suffered no such side effects. A large observational study was done in which it was found that eating pumpkin seeds was associated with reduced risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Test tube studies suggest that a supplement containing pumpkin seeds had the potential to slow down the growth of prostate cancer cells. Animal studies have also shown that pumpkin seed oil can support heart health by reducing high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. An observational study of over 127,000 men and women established that diets rich in magnesium were associated with 33% lower risk of type 2 diabetes in men, and 34% lower risk in women. Pumpkin seeds, which provide over a third of the RDO of magnesium can help anyone protect themselves from developing this disease.
Pumpkin seeds are so easy to enjoy as a part of a routine diet! Easily portable, you can pack them with your lunch as a quick snack. Throw them on top of your salad, stir them into some yogurt, bake them into a banana bread! The opportunities are endless!
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