Seeds for Medicinal Use
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Dieter K.H. Mueller, BA,CPIM,CPP
Posted on: June 14, 1999

A chiropractor I go to has started to give people the raw seeds of various herbs – medicinal types and garden varieties – to ingest as a form of herbal remedy. He asks people to either swallow the seeds or to chew on them.

I am concerned that some seeds may be toxic, even poisonous.

Should seeds be processed using pesticides or anti-fungals, that may also be a problem?

Then there’s the issue of whether seeds are intended for human consumption.

And what would Health Canada or the Canadian Chiropractic College say about a practitioner who prescribes raw seeds?

Finally, a patient might have an adverse reaction and consequently seek judicial remedy from not only the chiropractor but also the seed producer.

Could you please address these issues and advise of your opinions.

We cannot comment on the legal issues raised in your queries. They must be addressed to a lawyer competent in the areas of law that are relevant. Our comments below are based on our own experience in the seed industry and are, by necessity, only offer a partial answer to your questions.

Most seed companies sell seeds intended for planting purposes only. This is implied and rarely stated explicitly on the seed packets or in catalogues. If seeds are consumed it is without the knowledge of the seed companies. Whether there would be any liability to the seed company in the case where seeds are consumed for food or medicinal purposes is for lawyers and the courts to determine.

In our case we sell seeds intended for planting purposes and spice seeds intended for consumption. The "seeds" line with catalogue numbers beginning with an "S" (e.g. S1890 for coriander) is intended for planting purposes only. The "dried herb" line with numbers beginning with an "H" are not used for planting purposes.

It is true that seeds sold in the horticultural trade are sometimes treated with chemicals or otherwise handled in a manner that is not conducive for consumption. Some seeds are treated with fungicides. It is not a general practice to treat all seeds for planting purposes; only certain types and varieties of seeds that are commonly treated this way. For example, beans and corn seeds are often treated with fungicide, but flower seeds are rarely treated so. At Richters, we never treat our herb seeds (for planting purposes), but in some very rare cases we substitute treated seeds if untreated seeds are not available – in these very rare cases we make sure that the customer is aware and has the option to refuse.

In practice, the standards of purity in the seed industry are higher than food standards. Typically, horticultural seeds must be 99% pure or better while food grade seeds can have inert matter and other impurities as high as 5% of the total weight or higher. So, in practice, horticultural seeds are cleaner than food grade seeds.

Is your doctor at risk of sanctions from the government or professional body for prescribing seeds? Again, this is a question that we cannot answer, except to say that doctors have privileges accorded under current laws to prescribe herbs which may include any of thousands of species and their plant parts. Does any such herb, which theoretically can include flower seeds, have to comply with standard food laws? Not necessarily because the doctor-patient relationship is excluded from some provisions of Canada’s Food and Drugs Act and such products would be considered a singular supply of medicine to the patient which is not treated in the same way as packaged products sold publicly. In addition, whole or bulk herbs, including seeds, are treated differently from finished herbal medicines under the Food and Drugs Act.

Your question is a complex one, requiring expertise in many areas of federal and provincial law, as well as knowledge of the practice standards of the relevant governing professional body. Anyone needing a legal opinion on this subject is urged to consult a lawyer.

Back to Medicinal Herbs and Their Uses | Q & A Index

Copyright © 1997-2019 Otto Richter and Sons Limited. All rights reserved.