Common Name: Common Buckwheat, Tartary Buckwheat, Perennial Buckwheat
Scientific Name: Fagopyrum species
Family: Polygonaceae (the Knotweed or Smartweed or Buckwheat family)
Common Species (there are 15 or 16 species):
- Common Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum)
- Perennial Buckwheat (Fagopyrum dibotrys)
- Tartary Buckwheat (Fagopyrum tataricum)
Buckwheat, while not a grain or even related to wheat, does produced edible seeds that make a gluten-free, and quite tasty, flour. It is well known as a cover crop that builds organic matter, but it also suppresses weeds, mines phosphorus and calcium from deep in the soil, prevents erosion, and attracts many beneficial insects especially bees; Buckwheat flowers yield a highly sought-after honey!
There is a Perennial Buckwheat, but it does not seem to be highly productive outside its natural range in the high altitudes of the Himalayas and Southeast Asia, although there seems to be some people working with this plant… it will be interesting to see how things develop. Most Buckwheat species are annual and can be a useful addition to Permaculture designs and forest gardens, especially in the developmental stages.
Buckwheat likely originates from East or Southeast Asia. Common Buckwheat is the domesticated plant that originates from the wild Buckwheat, Fagopyrum esculentum spp. ancestrale. The wild form of Tartary Buckwheat is Fagopyrum taraticum spp. potanini. Sometime around 6,000 BC, Common Buckwheat was first cultivated, and it spread west. Common Buckwheat is the most common species grown in the world, but Tartary Buckwheat is commonly cultivated in the Himalayas.
- Buckwheat is not actually related to wheat at all, but to sorrel, knotweed, and rhubarb!
- Buckwheat is not even a grain, because it is not in the grass family.
- Buckwheat has no gluten.
- People use Buckwheat as a grain, so it is known as a pseudocereal (like amaranth, chia, quinoa, etc.)
- The common name “Buckwheat” comes from an older name “Beech Wheat”. This is due to the triangular seeds which resemble the seeds from the Beech Tree. The Middle Dutch word for “Beech” is boec, and the modern Dutch word is beuk.
- The scientific name Fagopyrum comes from the Greek… fagus = Beech, and pyrum (pyros) = wheat.
- Buckwheat is the highest cultivated plant growing at an average of 14,800 feet (4,500 meters) in the Tibetan plateau (mostly Tartary Buckwheat)
- Tartary Buckwheat is more bitter than Common Buckwheat, but may contain more phytonutrients.
- Common Buckwheat was a significant crop before nitrogen fertilizers (Buckwheat does not go to seed well with high levels of nitrogen). In 1918, over a million acres (4,000 square km) were harvested in the United States!
- Buckwheat Noodles are called soba in Japan, naengmyeon in Korea, and pizzoccheri in Italy.
- Buckwheat is considered allelopathic – this means it suppresses growth of other plants, which makes it a great “weed” control/suppressing plant.
USING THIS PLANT
- Edible Seeds – sprouted seeds can be eaten raw. The seed can be cooked and used as a cereal grain (i.e. dried and ground into a powder). Used in breads, pancakes, noodles, etc. Can be mixed with true cereal grains for making yeast breads. Can be used as a thickening agent in soups and sauces. Note that Perennial Buckwheat may not produce nearly as many seeds as the annual species.
- Edible Leaves – used like spinach – can be eaten raw or cooked, but is usually significantly more bitter when raw
- Cover Crop / Green Manure – used as a fast-growing cover crop that breaks down (rots) quickly providing lots of organic matter to the soil as well as soil coverage/protection and fertilization/composting in place. Sow at 60-135 lbs/acre (65-150 kg/ha) when using across large areas.
- General insect (especially bees) nectar plant – Buckwheat Honey is distinctively dark and is a highly sought after honey. These flowers are known for attracting predatory wasps, hoverflies (Syrphid flies), and more.
- Dynamic Accumulator – phosphorus and calcium
- Weed Suppressing Plant – the vigorous, fast-growing Buckwheat smothers unwanted “weeds”.
- Erosion Control Plant – the deep, fibrous roots hold the soil and prevent erosion
- Wildlife Shelter – especially small birds and mammals
- Alcohol – gluten-free beers and whisky have been made using Buckwheat
- Buckwheat Hulls – used in pillows and as upholstery filler
Harvesting: Annual Buckwheats produce edible leaves by 6-8 weeks and ripened seed at 10-14 weeks. The seeds do not all ripen at the same time, so harvesting is a bit time consuming. It is easiest to harvest when about three-quarters of the seeds become dark brown (ripe). If you wait longer, then many of the seeds with shatter (fall off). Cut the stems gently and move them to a tarp or sheet. Then hit the stems with a broom or carpet beater. Most of the unripe seeds will stay on the branches, and the ripe ones fall on the tarp. Winnow the seeds (blow the chaf away… leaves, bugs, older hulls, etc.) by pouring the seeds back and forth between buckets in a breeze or in front of a fan.
Storage: Use leaves fresh within a few days. Seeds can be dried and stored for years if kept in an airtight, minimal oxygen container – like with oxygen absorbers. Otherwise, the seeds, which have fats, can go rancid. Buckwheat flour should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator or other cool/cold place, and it can store for a few months.
DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT
AHS Heat Zone: No reliable information is available
Chill Requirement: Likely for Perennial Buckwheat, considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available.
Plant Type: Annual/Perennial
Leaf Type: Annual/Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer (Cover Crop)
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available. If you want a seed for eating, make sure you find one that is specifically for seed, and not just for a cover crop. These will taste much better!
Pollination: Not self-fertile. Pollinated by bees and flies.
Flowering: It all depends on when it is planted. Perennial Buckwheat blooms in late Summer to early Autumn (or Winter in warmer climates). Annual Buckwheat will form flowers in 2-10 weeks (yes, as early as just , but hot weather will cause the flowers to fall off without forming seeds (this is called “blasting”).
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT
- Common Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum): 3-5 feet (0.9-1.5 meters) tall and 1 foot (0.9 meters) wide
- Perennial Buckwheat (Fagopyrum dibotrys): 2.5-3.5 feet (0.75-1 meter) tall and 6 feet (2 meters) wide
- Tartary Buckwheat (Fagopyrum tataricum): 2.5 feet (0.75 meters) tall
Roots: Dense, fibrous root system close to the surface with a deep taproot (3-4 feet/1 meter deep).
Growth Rate: Fast – Very Fast
GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Dry to wet soils, but it needs good drainage.
pH: 4.0-6.0 (but tolerates a wide range of soil conditions)
Special Considerations for Growing:
- Buckwheat grows very well in low-fertility soils. In fact, if the soil has too much nitrogen, seed yield will be reduced… so it depends on what you are growing the Buckwheat for: manure or seed (flowers).
- Buckwheat seeds best in cooler weather, so if you live in a hot climate, then a late season sowing is recommended.
- If you want a seed harvest, then plant 2-3 months before the first killing frost.
- If planted in Summer, then there will be little seed production, but it will work great as a cover crop/green manure/weed suppressor.
- Buckwheat does not seed well in wind – the seeds shatter (drop), and it has a tendancy to lodge (tip over).
Typically from seed. Can be divided at any time during the growing season.
Minimal. Can be mowed or sythed down before flowering, and many of the plants will have a second growth.
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