Buckwheat is one of those plants that may be unfamiliar to most Americans. It is a staple crop in parts of China, Russia and Eastern Europe, but is less well known to U.S. food consumers.
Buckwheat is not a cereal grain, although it’s name might lead you to think it is. Rather, it is a flowering plant. Buckwheat is a relative of sorrel, dock and rhubarb, whose ‘fruit seeds’ are a great source of nutrition, cancer fighting phytonutrients, antioxidants and fiber.
A major crop which has been cultivated throughout the world for centuries, buckwheat production in the U.S. is currently far lower than in other parts of the world.
In the U.S. it is often planted not for the harvest of its seeds but as a weed control cover crop, a green manure to be cut and either tilled or left on the soil as organic matter, or as a honey crop for bees.
There are some powerful benefits offered by buckwheat in the garden and in the diet, not the least of which is its ease of growing and ability to thrive without fertilizers or pesticides.
1. Buckwheat is a great gluten free grain substitute.
A source of high quality protein, it contains all eight essential amino acids. Use it to make pancakes, porridge, as a substitute for rice, or sprout it and add it to salads and sandwiches for an antioxidant boost. Research has shown that sprouting buckwheat changes its nutrient profile and provides a super antioxidant boost.
To super enhance that antioxidant boost, add trace minerals to the sprouting water.
2. Buckwheat improves blood cholesterol levels.
In populations where buckwheat is a staple in the diet, it has been shown to lower serum cholesterol and particularly to lower LDL cholesterol, earning it a reputation as a heart healthy grain substitute.
3. Cancer fighting properties.
Studies have shown that various parts of the buckwheat seed inhibit tumor growth and slow cancer cell growth in a variety of different types of cancer.
4. Buckwheat is a clean crop.
Common buckwheat is one of the traditional ancient foods of people around the world. It has never been engineered, gone through breeding programs or modified, so you don’t have to worry if it’s safe.
5. Buckwheat shows results as an appetite suppressant.
It may even reduce your appetite and help you lose weight. In studies of grain substitutes, buckwheat was found to provide a higher sense of satiety than staple western grains such as rice and wheat.
6. An important bee crop.
Bees adore it. It blooms later than most spring pollen producers and can be a very important food source for bees. Like borage, it will continue blooming and producing new flower clusters and seed heads all season right up to the first frost, providing a major food source for the honey bee.
So, if part of your life mission right now is to help bees, planting common buckwheat is a definite must-do action item.
7. Buckwheat flowers are the source of buckwheat honey, which has proven antioxidant and anti inflammatory properties.
Not only does the buckwheat flower sustain the bees during the mid and late season when traditional pollen sources are low; the honey it produces is medicinal. According to research:
“As buckwheat honey was most effective in reducing ROS levels, it was selected for use in wound-healing products. The major antioxidant properties in buckwheat honey derive from its phenolic constituents, which are present in relatively large amounts. Its phenolic compounds may also exert antibacterial activity, whereas its low pH and high free acid content may assist wound healing.”
8. It makes an attractive addition to the garden and has a fragrant flower.
No matter where it is planted in the garden, it adds flowering beauty and a pleasing scent. It can go in the vegetable gardens, herb gardens or along borders and edges. It can be broadcast seeded in meadows. Plant it around the main vegetable and fruit gardens to attract pollinators.
9. It’s a great cover crop for garden beds
Buckwheat can crowd out some of the toughest spring weeds. While it’s growing it is adding phosphorous to the soil for any vegetable crops which can be inter-planted later in the season once the buckwheat has been established. In polyculture gardens it is left to continue blooming and plants are planted in among the stalks.
Buckwheat is a popular crop in permaculture for all these reasons.
So, even if you don’t grow enough to harvest the seeds and make your own grain substitutes, adding buckwheat in the garden provides food for bees, nourishes the soil and fills the air with a delightful fragrance.
For those not fortunate enough to have a garden, this information might inspire a local seed bomb project. Remember, common buckwheat grows easily, without fertilizers or pesticides, so it’s easy enough to make up small clay ‘seed packages’ and deliver them to edge lands, open spaces where little care is being taken of the property. Organic common buckwheat is sold by many organic specialty seed farmers.
Oh, one more thing, buckwheat can be used as a replacement for barley to make a gluten free beer. So, if it’s really true that humans began growing grains and developing agriculture in order to make alcohol, as some anthropologists have suggested… Now there’s the reason we were waiting for to get truly motivated!
Buckwheat: plant it, grow it, sprout it, eat it!