In early August, we had the pleasure of visiting with herbalist Richo Cech from Strictly Medicinal Seeds at his ranch in southern Oregon. We were greeted not only by Richo’s friendly smile, but also by his beautiful garden full of thriving herbs and happy pollinators.
It’s clear that Richo and his family love what they do. Their fascination with herbs and the art of seed saving led them to start their business back in 1985. Just like their gardens, it has grown into something really special—no wonder our customers love ordering their seeds! As we toured his lovely herb garden, Richo talked to us about how it all started and why he's passionate about seed saving.
When did you start saving seeds?
Richo: I started saving seeds when I was a little kid. I was sitting on my doorstep at just 4 years old and there were these marigold plants growing nearby. Being curious, I dissected one and found these long black things in there. I suspected that they were seeds and asked my mom if she thought they could be planted. She said she thought so but wasn’t sure if they would grow. I decided to plant them and they grew. That was the miracle of life right there at four years old! Nothing much has changed, I’m still totally cuckoo for cocoa puffs for seeds. I see seeds, and it just stops me in my tracks.
Why do you think that seed saving is important?
Richo: It’s an age-old activity that gives us a chance to do something meaningful. We get to hold the life force in our hands, and it empowers us and gives us the opportunity to improve the environment. I stand in the midst of towering trees on our little five acres and notice that a feral grape has climbed into a persimmon and left a dangling cluster that I would eat if I could reach it (and a bird will eat it if I can't), and I realize that without planting that persimmon tree from a seed 30 years ago, the grape would have nowhere to climb, the bird would have no place to sit, the shade would not shield me. Planting trees from seed saved by your own hands is a long-term proposal for environmental improvement, yet it is one of the few things one can do that really does create reliably positive results. Plant lots of seeds, with love, for the earth—and then let go.
What do you love most about what you do?
Richo: I love spending so much of my time with plants and nourishing that energy. It puts me in touch with my agrarian roots. It puts me into touch with my food source. My work becomes my friends, the plants, and then they become a part of my body. You improve your friends, and that improves your life. It also gives me an opportunity to serve people’s good health. I get to live in a garden of healthful plants, with peaches and apples, and elderberry syrup in the cupboard. Butterflies abound, my family is healthy.
What’s your favorite herb?
Richo: I love St. Johns Wort. It blooms in mid-summer with bright yellow flowers. You smash the yellow top between your thumbnails, and what you get is bright red hypersium, which helps to promote a healthy mood and emotional balance. That sort of magical transformation is something that never fails to impress me no matter how many times I do it. It’s just the best.
Any words of wisdom for those who are new to growing herbs?
Richo: My advice is to begin with a bit of good earth planted in simple annuals like calendula, chamomile, and summer savory. Start small, experience the joy of seeing the seeds germinate, watch the plants grow, get your fingers around them to weed and cultivate, harvest at the right time, and make use of what you grow. Experiencing this cycle one time, effectively, serves as a foundation for future expansion. The next year, plant a larger selection of species. We have a Lifeline Medicinal Seeds kit that makes for a great foundation. You can select perennials adapted to your USDA hardiness zone and the environment of your garden. Keep growing the plants that do well, and forget about the ones that fail. Keep going every year, and the array of useful plants that do well in your garden will expand. This has been my approach, and I suppose I have registered more failures than successes, but I have no regrets at all.
want to learn more from Richo?