Saving Pepper Seeds

Learn how to save seeds from peppers.

| October 2015

The Seed Garden (Seed Savers Exchange, 2015) by Micaela Colley & Jared Zystro and edited by Lee Buttala & Shanyn Siegel brings together decades of research and hands-on experience to teach both novice gardeners and seasoned horticulturists how to save the seeds of their favorite vegetable varieties.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Seed Garden.

From sweet bell peppers and mild poblanos to jalapeños and fiery habaneros, an amazing diversity of peppers can be grown in the vegetable garden. Five domesticated species in the genus Capsicum are grown for their edible and ornamental fruits. Understanding their relationship to one another is crucial for the production of true-to-type seeds. Of the five species, three of them—Capsicum annuum, Capsicum frutescens, and Capsicum chinense—are generally interfertile and are collectively known as the Capsicum annuum complex. They are able to cross-pollinate and so require isolation from each other. The other two species are less popular among gardeners. Of these two, Capsicum baccatum may cross-pollinate with plants of the Capsicum annuum complex, but Capsicum pubescens will reproduce only with members of its own species. Because it is relatively simple to isolate peppers by containment, gardeners often save seeds of many pepper varieties in one season.

Crop Types

Peppers are primarily grown for their edible fruits, which are consumed either while green and immature or after they have ripened. Additionally, dried peppers can be ground into spices, such as Hungarian paprika and chili powder. Peppers were originally classified into species based on morphology and flower color was used at one time as part of the process of identifying Capsicum species, but these physical characteristics do not correspond well to the sexual compatibility of the different pepper types. Most domesticated peppers have purple flowers, solid white flowers, or white flowers with yellow spots.

Pepper varieties are often classified by the color, shape, size, and the thickness of the walls of their fruits, as well as their heat—that is, the intensity of their spicy flavor. Peppers’ heat comes from the compound capsaicin and is produced in the fruit’s placenta. Peppers are typically elongated but can range in size from diminutive chiltepins to 12-inch-long cayenne types. Fruits range in color from yellow, orange, and red to green and purple. There is an almost endless range of market types of pep­pers including sweet bells, anchos, frying peppers, tabasco peppers, serranos, and Thai chiles.


Part of the confusion about the relationship between the three species in the Capsicum annuum complex and the other two cultivated species, Capsicum baccatum and Capsicum pubescens, may stem from the fact that there were multiple domestication events for many of these species, and many wild Capsicum relatives were grown alongside these domesticated crops 8,000 years ago. Members of the Capsicum annuum complex were most likely domesti­cated originally in regions of South and Central America. Capsicum baccatum was domesticated at least twice, in western and eastern South America. Capsicum pubescens was most likely domesticated only once, near modern-day Bolivia. From their centers of origin, peppers moved northward to the Caribbean and North America. In the sixteenth century, Spanish boats brought pepper seeds west to the Philippines, while Portuguese boats brought seed east to Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. Most of the chile peppers introduced to Europe did not come directly from the Americas but from India, Asia, and Africa via Turkish trading routes.

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