"If you haven't yet gotten rid of your Jack-o'-lantern, don't throw it away,"
Pumpkins are native to the Americas. Historical evidence suggests they were grown in Mexico as early as 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. European settlers adopted their use in the 1600s from Native Americans.
Pumpkins are used as a food source in many parts of the world and are very nutritious. They are rich in vitamin E, thiamine, niacin, vitamin B6 and iron. They are also rich in dietary fiber.
"The term pumpkin applies to similar looking fruit from three or four closely related squash species," said Taun Beddes, Utah State University Extension horticulturist. "Jack-o'-lantern-type pumpkins are great for display, but are usually too stringy or fibrous to make good pumpkin pie. For pie making, sugar pie pumpkins are usually used by hobby gardeners, and types of squash similar in appearance to pumpkin are often used commercially. For size competitions, Dill's Atlantic Giant is probably the most popular variety. Its seeds are available from local retailers, and it is the result of multiple crosses and back crosses between several species of pumpkin. Some specimens have weighed nearly a ton."
Beddes said in addition to these uses, the seeds also make a healthy seasonal treat. According to the USDA, pumpkin seeds are rich in protein, magnesium and zinc. They also have appreciable amounts of manganese and copper.
To roast the seeds, Beddes said to first wash them in cold water to remove contaminants, then place a single layer on an oiled baking sheet and salt them lightly. Roast the seeds at 325 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes. While cooking, stir them every 10 minutes. Once seeds are roasted, store them in an air-tight container.
Beddes said it is not advisable to save pumpkin seeds for future gardens. Since squash species readily hybridize, the seeds often produce something different than the parent plant unless extra measures are taken.
"If you haven't yet gotten rid of your Jack-o'-lantern, don't throw it away," he said. "Add it to the compost pile or use it as animal feed. The University of Nebraska found pumpkins are a good source of energy and protein for cattle. They can also be fed to pigs, and the seeds and 'guts' can be fed to chickens."