Few plants excited Jefferson's enthusiasm as much as Sesame. In 1807, he received a sample of Sesame oil and was struck by its flavor as a salad dressing as well as by the plant's success in Georgia, where it had been introduced as "Benne" by enslaved Africans. "I did not believe there existed so perfect a substitute for olive oil," he wrote not long after his first taste. Certain that it could thrive in Virginia and elsewhere in the United States, he avidly wrote to acquaintances of its virtues, sometimes enclosing seeds and sowing instructions. His own early efforts to extract oil from the tiny seeds of the Sesame plant did not meet with great success, and by 1811, after three years of trying, he had only "two or three bushels" and a "gallon of oil" to show for it. Still, he recorded sowing Sesame in seven of the following fifteen years. He generally referred to it as Benni, though he also varied the spelling as Beni, Beny, or Benney.

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Typical Blooming Dates: July-September
Growth Type: Annual
Blossom Color(s): White
Location at Monticello: Vegetable Garden
Planting Conditions: Full Sun