The Seed Detective

Uncovering the Secret Histories of Remarkable Vegetables

Foreword by Tim Lang
Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing UK

Radio 4’s The Food Programme Book of the Year, chosen by Dan Saladino

An Irish Times Best Gardening Book 2023

Shortlisted for the Garden Media Guild’s Garden Book of the Year Award 2023

Longlisted for The Art of Eating Prize 2023

‘If you’re a vegetable growing addict or just curious about their origins, there’s something for everyone in Adam’s new book.’ Rob Smith, TV presenter

‘[This book] is a clarion call to think about our food in new ways and carefully consider where it comes from.’ New Scientist

Meet the Indiana Jones of vegetables on his quest to save our heritage produce.

Have you ever wondered how everyday staples such as peas, kale, asparagus, beans, squash and sweetcorn ended up on our plates? Well, so did Adam Alexander. Adam’s passion for heritage vegetables was ignited when he tasted an unusual, sweet and fiery pepper while on a filmmaking project in Ukraine. Smitten by its flavour, he began to seek out local growers of old and near-forgotten varieties in a mission to bring home seeds to grow and share – saving them from being lost forever.

In The Seed Detective, Adam tells of his far flung (and closer to home) seed-hunting adventures and reveals the stories behind many of our everyday vegetable heroes. How the common garden pea was domesticated from three wild species over 8,500 years ago, that the first carrots originated in Afghanistan (and were actually purple or red in colour), how Egyptian priests considered it a crime to look at a fava bean and that the Romans were fanatical about asparagus.

Join The Seed Detective as he takes us on a journey that began when we left the life of hunter-gatherers to become farmers. Sharing storiesof globalisation, political intrigue, colonisation and serendipity, Adam shows us the vital part vegetables have played in our food story – and how they are the key to our future.

‘Informative, enlightening and entertaining but also important.’ Mark Diacono

‘One of the most inspirational books I have encountered.’ Darina Allen


  • 2023 The Art of Eating Prize
  • 2023 GardenComm Media Awards Silver Laurel Medal of Achievement
  • 2023 Garden Media Guild’s Garden Book of the Year Award

Reviews and Praise

  • ‘A fascinating and original exploration of the horticultural heritage at our fingertips, and an inspiration to follow in at least some of Adam’s footsteps. Informative, enlightening and entertaining but also important, The Seed Detective is an invitation to be inquisitive, to experiment, and to make our contribution to the plot-to-plate food movement we need to rejuvenate our relationship with food and the soil.’

    Mark Diacono, author of Spice/a cook’s companion

More Reviews and Praise

  • ‘At a time in history when we have become dangerously disconnected from how our food is produced and when self-inflicted, diet-related diseases are the primary cause of premature death, this book could not be more timely. Catastrophic loss of biodiversity and climate change add to the perfect storm. 

    ‘Adam’s initial curiosity has taken him all over the world, collecting precious, often endangered vegetable seeds to grow and share with others. 

    ‘His passion encourages us to seek out nutritious, flavourful, local varieties instead of the lacklustre, mass-produced vegetables that have contributed to the loss of interest in this vital and delicious food source. 

    ‘One of the most inspirational books I have encountered in a long time.’

    Darina Allen, founder, Ballymaloe Cookery School

  • ‘If you’re a vegetable growing addict or just curious about their origins, there’s something for everyone in Adam’s new book. Follow the Seed Detective as he searches for beans through Burmese markets, learn when a courgette is actually a marrow, and be regaled with stories about how homegrown red brussels sprouts helped decide his future. The perfect book for anyone who grows from seed!’

    Rob Smith, winner, BBC’s The Big Allotment Challenge; garden columnist; TV presenter; seed guardian

  • ‘Reading this book feels like I am having a cup of tea with Adam in his polytunnel while he tells me fascinating stories of the plants around us. From why garlic was fed daily to the builders of the pyramids to the earliest chillies found in a Mexican cave in 6000 bce, Adam entertains as he educates. I have a new-found respect for the humble vegetable.’

    Katie Caldesi, co-owner, Caldesi restaurants and cookery schools; best-selling author

  • 'Whether you know your vegetables by eating them, cooking them or growing them, Adam Alexander’s book will enhance those experiences with his tales. Knowing their histories, and the impact they have had on the world, gives them such a special savour that you will never think of them as mere “groceries” again.'

    Barbara Damrosch, author of The Garden Primer and The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook

  • ‘True seeds always have stories, and stories are what make Alexander’s book so enjoyable. Stories about grannies who bring their treasured family heirlooms to souks and seed shops all over the world; but also about con artists who improve varieties minimally or not at all, then change the names to invent novelty; and about modern plant breeders bringing a renewed appreciation for flavour into their work. At once explorer, treasure hunter, researcher and sleuth, Alexander brings a joy to his lifetime quest that is contagious.’

    CR Lawn, founder, Fedco Seeds

  • ‘In our everyday lives, vegetables are often presented to us with limited choice and boring uniformity, so we take their availability for granted, without much thought. Written from the viewpoint of the humble seed, Alexander takes us on a journey that opens the true origin of the vegetables we put on our plates, not just addressing their heritage but also their fundamental role in the cultures of the world. They are the centrepieces of our lives. This book, narrated with personal experience combined with a deep passion, will make you think about the humble veg we consume in a completely different light and my advice to you is to open it up and jump in.’ 

    C.M. Collins, head of horticulture, Garden Organic

  • ‘When you read the fascinating stories behind the origin of seeds in The Seed Detective, it’s easy to be enthralled by the agricultural history growing in our gardens. This book takes the reader on a journey to distant lands with a passionate gardener, seed conserver and historian to learn how early cultures survived through seed growing, saving and sharing. It’s an important and rare book that will appeal to anyone who grows a food garden or loves food history.’

    Ellen Ecker Ogden, author of The New Heirloom Garden

  • ‘While this book targets a British audience, it is highly relevant to us all. Drawing heavily on his own explorations in distant lands, Adam Alexander recounts endless stories of the origins of most of our important food crops. He is not the first to do this, yet his detailed, insightful and entertaining accounts are truly superb.

    ‘Beginning his odyssey in a dilapidated Soviet-era Ukrainian kitchen, he documents so many sad cases of lost diversity, sounding a shrill alarm for the loss of “culture” in agriculture, yet offering inspiration and encouragement to those of us struggling to recover, preserve and share our endangered crop plant heritage.’

    Will Bonsall, author of Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening

  • ‘The writing is rich, demonstrating [Alexander’s] deep integration into the world of seed seekers…It is a clarion call to think about our food in new ways and to carefully consider where it comes from.’ 

    New Scientist

About The Author

About Adam Alexander

Adam Alexander is a consummate storyteller thanks to forty years as an award-winning film and television producer, but his true passion is collecting rare, endangered but, above all, delicious vegetables from around the world. He lectures widely on his work discovering and conserving rare, endangered garden crops, is a board member of the national charity Garden Organic, and his knowledge and expertise on growing out vegetables for seed is highly valued by the Heritage Seed Library, for which he is a seed guardian. Adam shares seeds with other growers and gene banks in the USA, Canada and the EU, and he is currently growing out seed of heritage Syrian vegetables to be returned to the Middle East as part of a programme to revive traditional horticulture. He has appeared on Gardeners' World and the Great British Food Revival, CNN's Going Green and Radio New Zealand.

Find out more: / Twitter @vegoutwithadam / Insta @theseeddetective

Books By Adam Alexander

Pages:320 pages
Size: 6 x 9 inch
Publisher:Chelsea Green Publishing UK
US Pub. Date: September 29, 2022
UK Pub. Date: September 29, 2022
Hardcover: 9781915294005

Available In/Retail Price

Hardcover, 320 pages, £18.99GBP