Pumpkin Seeds (Pepitas) – An Ancient Medicinal Food with Powerful Benefits
Perhaps the quintessential symbol of autumn, the pumpkin is a actually a Mexican native and an ancient staple food. Botanically classified as a fruit rather than a vegetable, pumpkins are found across North America, South America, and Central America. Pumpkin seeds, also called “pepitas” were actually discovered by archaeologists in caves in Mexico that date back to 7,000 B.C.
Pumpkin seeds were a celebrated food among many Native American tribes, who treasured them both for their dietary and medicinal properties. In South America, the popularity of pumpkin seeds has been traced at least as far back as the Aztec cultures of 1300-1500 AD who used them as both a ritual offering and food. Other Mesoamerican indigenous groups, including the Maya, used the seeds and their oil in sauces and baked whole pumpkins in pit ovens called pibs. The Spaniards brought pumpkins to Europe and Asia, where it was welcomed as a nutritious and economical food and became part of the cuisine of many countries. In parts of Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean (especially Greece), pumpkin seeds became a standard part of everyday cuisine, and culinary and medical traditions in India and other parts of Asia also incorporated this food into a place of importance.
The medicinal use of pumpkin seeds are best documented from their use by Native Americans. The primary medicinal use was as an internal parasite remedy. In fact, the effectiveness of pumpkin seeds was so well observed that by the 1800s to early 1900s, the United States pharmacopoeia listed pumpkin seeds as an official medicine for the treatment of parasites. Native Americans also used the seeds for kidney problems. Herbal doctors in the early 1800’s also developed the use of pumpkin seeds to treat urinary and gastric illness. In many parts of the world today, pumpkin seeds are still used as both a food and common medicine to cure tapeworms.
Health benefits of pumpkin seeds
- Sleep aid:. They’re high in the sleep-enhancing amino acid tryptophan that converts to serotonin in your body and helps ensure a good night’s sleep;
- Good for your heart: They’re also high in the heart-healing mineral magnesium, which is also Nature’s natural relaxant;
- High in protein: They’re high levels of easily-digestible protein helps stabilize blood sugar when eaten as a snack throughout the day. Stable blood sugar means weight loss if you’re trying to lose. 100 g of seeds provide 30 g of protein, or 54% of recommended daily allowance.
- High in Omega 3s: Pumpkin seed oil has been shown in studies to reduce the incidence of benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH)—a condition in which the prostate gland becomes enlarged. The oil also alleviates difficult urination that happens with an enlarged prostate.
- Good zinc content: Pumpkin seeds are also high in the prostate-protecting mineral zinc, making these seeds the ultimate snack for men’s health.
- Iron source: They’re a good source of blood-building and energy-boosting iron.
- Anti-inflammatory qualities: In animal studies, when pumpkin seeds were added to the diet, the anti-inflammatory results were comparable to the effectiveness of the drug indomethacin—without the side-effects.
- Lower cholesterol: Their phytosterol compounds are believed to lower cholesterol levels. Of nuts and seeds, pumpkin seeds have the second highest amount of sterols (next to sunflower seeds and pistachios which tied for first).
- Fiber: Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of fiber which helps keep you regular.
- Fight cancer and illness: Many snack foods are acid-forming in the body. Acidity has been linked to pain, illness, and even cancer. Pumpkin seeds are alkalizing to the body’s pH. In fact they are the most alkaline-forming seed!
How to Eat Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds make very nutritious snacks and are usually sold toasted and hulled, meaning the shell of the seed has been removed. They are also commonly sold as a salted treat. Pumpkin seeds are very easy to prepare yourself by allowing them to dry overnight, and then roasting them at 170 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. Toasted seeds make an excellent healthy addition to salads, vegetables, curries, cookies, soups and just about anything else. They are not a high allergen so its generally safe for most people to eat them.
- By eating the kernels raw, more of the beneficial nutrients are preserved, however roasted seeds still provide amazing health benefits.
- Pumpkin seeds can be eaten salted or sweetened. Traditionally in Mexico, seeds are toasted and flavored with salt, lime, or chili peppers and enjoyed as a snack.
- Pumpkin seeds can be served over food and added to sauces, such as the Mexican mole sauce.
- Like other nuts and seeds, they can included as a healthy addition to granolas, biscuits, breads, cookies, casseroles or baked goods.
- A great way to enjoy seeds is by tossing them in fruit and vegetable salads.
- They can also be prepared by grinding them before adding them to your food.
- Besides the seeds, pumpkin seed oil also has a wide range of uses for delicious culinary creations. It can be used as a salad dressing as well as a cooking oil for just about anything!