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( Originally Published 1933 )



Pedaliaceae Annual

Sesame, or bene, also called Sesamum indicum, L., is native to the tropics and is a pretty plant with its almost furry, whitish, foxglove-like flowers.

Root. The root is fleshy, white, and has one main stem. Stem. The stem is round, ridged, hairy and glistening, and grows to three feet high.

Leaf. The lower leaves are opposite, toothed, three inches long, fleshy, hairy, and with glands on them. The upper leaves are not toothed, slender, and alternately placed along the stem.

Flower. The flowers come from July to September and are lavender shaded white, thimble, or foxglove-shaped, very hairy, soft to the touch, one inch long, the upper lip with two lobes and shorter than the three-lobed lower lip.

Seed. The capsule is tetragonal, oblong, four-celled with numerous seeds which are tiny, one-sixteenth of an inch, cream-colored, flat, two-sided, leaf-shaped, terminating in a point at one end. Drury, "Useful Plants of India," says there are plants with black seeds and that the white-seeded varieties are not so common. The seeds taste like nuts, and give a pleasant flavor to cookies and biscuits.


According to Brahma Purana, sesame was created by Yama, God of Death, after a long penitence, and is used in funerary and expiatory ceremonies as a purifier and symbol of immortality. Sesame was mentioned by Theophrastus, in The "Anabasis," and by Dioscorides.

We all remember Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and how Ali Baba hiding in a tree heard the robber chief standing before the treasure cave, say: "Open sesame" and when he came out: "Close sesame." Then when Ali Baba's brother followed after him to the cave to steal some of the treasure, how in his greed he forgot the pass-word and called "Open barley" and other grains in vain, and so was caught and strung up by the robbers when they returned. Ibn Baithar, who must have been bald himself, he writes so much about curing it, says that sesame oil in a concoction with olive and myrtle oil is a good cure for dandruff. Parkinson says: "The seed in ancient times was much used in bread for a relish and makes it sweet, as also in cakes with honey as poppy seeds." The sesame seed, called "bene" in the South, was introduced by the African Negroes into Florida.


To extract the oil the seed is bruised and immersed in hot water, and the oil which rises to the surface is then skimmed off. At Marseilles it figures in the manufacture of soap.

Medicine. It is in all pharmacopoeias. The oil is mild, laxative, and is a soothing external application.

Food. In China, Egypt, and India the oil extracted from the seeds is used like olive oil in cooking. Moore and Rock, "Chinese Recipes," say that fat in Chinese recipes is always sesame oil. The Negroes parch the seeds over a fire, mix them with water, stew other ingredients with them, and so make a hearty meal. In South Carolina the seeds are used by the Negroes to make broths, and are also eaten parched, and often candied with sugar and molasses. The Hindus roast them and grind them into a meal which they eat. We have made the sesame cookies we give amongst our recipes and find they taste delicious, The seeds are good in cakes, too.


Sesame comes readily from seed, which can be purchased in American seed establishments. Planted the first week in May in a sunny, well-drained situation, by July 23d it was up to two feet. It probably grows more vigorously in southern countries than in northern ones.

Harvest. When ripe the seed is picked and cleaned.

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