The term buckwheat generally refers to common buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) rather than to the domesticated plant known as Tartary buckwheat, green buckwheat, ku qiao, or bitter buckwheat (Fagopyrum tataricum), which is a related, but different, species. Buckwheat groats (seeds) are delicious whether they are consumed raw or cooked.
Because buckwheat is a pseudograin (pseudocereal), it is gluten-free. The seeds have a nutty flavor; while they are often eaten cooked, they are also used raw. You can generally prepare rice recipes with buckwheat instead. For example, buckwheat is well suited for preparing a gourmet risotto. Buckwheat can also be soaked or sprouted and then sprinkled on salads or used as a base for vegetable patties or vegetable filling. Buckwheat can also be cooked to make porridge dishes or desserts. Although buckwheat flour cannot be baked alone, it works well as a gluten-free substitute1 for flour as well as a thickener for soups and sauces. Buckwheat flakes are a tasty addition to a bowl of muesli for breakfast.
Raw buckwheat leaves can cause skin irritation, so we cannot recommend eating them expect in very limited quantities. For example, you could eat small quantities of the raw leaves finely chopped as a seasoning on a salad. Boil the leaves briefly to improve their astringent taste.1
Porridge is made from buckwheat in Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish cuisine. In northern Italy and southeastern Switzerland, buckwheat flour is processed into polenta and a pasta called “pizzoccheri.” People in many countries and regions make different types of pancakes from buckwheat flour, such as “galettes” in France, “blinis” in Russia, “poffertjes” in the Netherlands, “Bookweiten–Janhinnerk” in the German region of East Frisia, and “Schwarzplentn” in North Tyrol (Austria), South Tyrol (Italy), and the Eifel mountain range. Buckwheat flour is also sometimes used in the United States to make American pancakes. South Tyrol is known in part for its buckwheat cakes (Bozner Buchweizentorte, Schwarzplentener Kuchen), while “Panhas,” a meat pie with buckwheat flour, is common in the kitchens of the German state North Rhine-Westphalia. A traditional buckwheat flour dish called “Sterz” (similar to the fluffy shredded pancake called a “Kaiserchmarrn” or “emperor’s mess”) is popular in the Austrian states of Styria and Carinthia as well as in Slovenia (where it is called Žganci). The soba noodles popular in Japan are also traditionally made from buckwheat.2 To make enough for four people, boil 200 g buckwheat in 400 g water. After about 10 minutes, drain the buckwheat while it is still slightly firm and allow it to cool. With a vegetable peeler, cut one medium-size zucchini and one medium-size carrot into ribbons. Quarter 100 g cherry tomatoes, and cut four dates into small pieces. Chop fresh herbs such as cilantro, parsley, mint leaves, basil, and spring onions to taste. For the dressing, mix salt, pepper, turmeric, cumin, lemon juice, and cold-pressed canola oil. Mix all the ingredients, including the dressing and the buckwheat, with 100 g boiled yellow lentils. When everything is mixed well, carefully fold bite-size pieces of one avocado into the salad.
Mix together 150 g buckwheat flour, 50 g wheat flour, ½ tsp salt, and 1 packet (2½ tsp) baking powder. Add 2 tsp apple cider vinegar and 200 to 450 mL water or plant-based milk (e.g., soy milk or oat milk) to make a smooth batter. If you use less liquid, you will get fluffy, thicker blinis, while a runnier batter will result in thinner pancakes. Let the batter rest for 20 minutes before frying the blinis in a hot skillet.
A buckwheat tea can be prepared from both the greens and the groats (seeds) of the buckwheat plant. Stir a teaspoon of buckwheat groats or a tablespoon of buckwheat greens (Herba Fagopyri) into one cup of boiling water, and let the mixture simmer for 3 minutes. Simmering the buckwheat for 3 minutes increases the health benefits of the tea by allowing as much rutin (a flavonoid) as possible to permeate the tea. After 10 minutes, pour the tea through a fine sieve.4 You will begin to notice health benefits after drinking two to three cups of tea for four to eight weeks.
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Buckwheat groats can be found in stores dedicated to Russian delicacies as well as major grocery stores and health food shops, such as Walmart, Whole Foods Markets, Kroger, and Safeway (United States); Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Aldi, Lidl, and Holland & Barret (Great Britain); Metro, Extra Foods, and Goodness Me (Canada); and Coles, Woolworths, and Harris Farm (Australia). Buckwheat does not, however, usually make its way into discount grocery stores. In organic shops you can also find organic buckwheat flakes, flour, meal, and even puffed buckwheat. Most buckwheat groats on the market cannot be sprouted because they have been hulled before being sold.
Buckwheat greens are available as loose tea or in tea bags online, in health food stores, and in pharmacies and drugstores in some countries. In Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Russia, supermarkets offer buckwheat in practical, preportioned packs (Griķi, Gritji, гречка) that look like quick-cooking parboiled rice bags.2
Wild buckwheat can be found growing on paths, at the edges of forests, in rocky areas, and in fields of weeds. It usually only comes back for a few years and comes from being planted.2
When does buckwheat bloom? Buckwheat flowers mainly during the period from June/July to August/September, depending on the location and climate. You can harvest buckwheat groats in late summer,1 while the plant’s leaves and flowers can be harvested and dried for infusions and teas as soon as the flowers begin to bloom.3
You should read a reliable description of the plant before you try to collect buckwheat in the wild. A good description will give you an overview of the plant’s most distinctive characteristics and will tell you about plants that are commonly mistaken for buckwheat.
True buckwheat is a slender, annual plant with upright, mostly reddish stems, and it can grow from 20 to 60 cm tall. The leaves are broad and triangular, and they can be up to 7 cm long. The small, fragrant, pink to white flowers appear in clusters in the summer. The seeds are triangular, brown, and about 6 mm long.3
Tartary buckwheat, green buckwheat, ku qiao, or bitter buckwheat (Fagopyrum tataricum) is a closely related species that is sometimes called false buckwheat. The primary difference between true buckwheat and Tartary buckwheat is the leaves. Those of Tartary buckwheat are usually wider rather than long. You should also look at the stem, which gives Tartary buckwheat the moniker green buckwheat, because it is green rather than red in late summer when the plants are producing fruit.2
Buckwheat groats, dried leaves, and flowers should be kept dry in a tightly closed container and protected from light. Proper storage will prolong the shelf life of buckwheat and prevent any loss in quality as the result of pest infestations, mold, or oxidation.
Every part of the buckwheat plant contains flavonoids, tannins, natural colors, proteins, B vitamins, calcium, and silicic acid. The flavonoid rutin is found in quantities up to 5 % in the groats, 1 up to 8 % in the leaves, up to 4 % in the flowers, and up to 0.4 % in the stems. The total flavonoid content of buckwheat greens varies according to the variety and location of the buckwheat. Buckwheat greens harvested while the plant is flowering has about 0.01 % of fagopyrin and phenolic carboxylic acids, sitosterol, and anthocyanins.4
Buckwheat groats are rich in carbohydrates, especially starches. They contain up to 13 % protein and the essential amino acid lysine (0.67 g/100 g = 36 % of the daily requirement). Lysine is only present in limited amounts of domestic European cereals and is therefore regarded as a limiting amino acid in wheat or spelt.1 Buckwheat’s protein has a high bioavailability value at 80–93. By comparison, the protein of a whole egg has a bioavailability value of 100. Combining buckwheat with a grain like wheat or spelt can lead to a bioavailability value of 100.5
Buckwheat also contains hyperoside, caffeic acid, naphthodianthrones, phenolic acids, quercitrin, salicylic acid, and tryptophan (0.19 g/100 g = 77 % of the daily requirement).6 Buckwheat’s magnesium content is also worth mentioning, since at 231 mg/100 g, it supplies 62 % of your daily recommended intake of magnesium. The essential trace elements copper and manganese also appear in abundance with 110 % and 65 %, respectively, of your daily requirement. Buckwheat is also a good source of fiber, providing 10 g/100 g. Please note that these values refer to uncooked raw buckwheat.7
Buckwheat that has not been hulled contains phytic acid as well as valuable minerals and dietary fiber in its outer layers. Phytic acid combine with dietary proteins, minerals, and trace elements to form compounds that are difficult to digest. Buckwheat is very healthy. While it matches the benefits of other super foods, we think that the designation is exaggerated in this case.
Buckwheat can help protect against oxidative stress, high blood sugar, inflammation, edema, and excess mucous while at the same time promoting hemostasis, healthy blood circulation, vasodilation, and a healthy venous system.6
This gluten-free pseudograin is suitable for those suffering from celiac disease (coeliac disease, celiac sprue, notropical sprue, endemic sprue, gluten enteropathy). Look for the gluten-free symbol, which can only appear on certified products. In addition, experiments with diabetic rats have shown that buckwheat can also help to lower blood sugar levels.2
Consuming buckwheat that has not been hulled can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. This sensitivity comes from buckwheat’s fagopyrin, a red coloring agent in the hull that can have a phototoxic effect when it is exposed to light, thereby increasing your sensitivity to harmful UV rays (photosensitization). The effects can include an itchy skin rash (urticarial) and gastrointestinal issues (nausea, diarrhea, vomiting), which has become known as buckwheat disease.2 Headaches are rare among the side effects.6 If you consume hulled buckwheat, you should be able to avoid the problems listed above.2
Buckwheat was named the medicinal plant of the year in 1999 by the interdisciplinary research team for the evolution of medicinal plants at the Institut für Geschichte der Medizin (Institute for the history of medicine) at the University of Würzburg.2 Buckwheat’s selection as the medical plant of the year underscores its medical significance and pharmaceutical uses.
Buckwheat groats and greens contain rutosides (rutin) that are used to treat venous disorders (chronic venous insufficiency, CVI).2,8 Buckwheat tea, for example, can be helpful for venous and vascular weakness, and can complement treatments for arteriosclerosis and varicose veins.1
In natural medicine, buckwheat is also used to stop bleeding, retinal hemorrhages, and vein congestion, and to stimulate milk production in women who have recently given birth.1
Where does buckwheat come from? Buckwheat is an ancient crop that originated from Central and East Asia,2 likely in the Amur river basin. In the Middle Ages, the Mongols probably brought buckwheat to Central Europe. There, it is most commonly found in shrubland habitats, low mountain ranges, and in the Southern Alps (in the Austrian states of Carinthia and Styria, for example).9 Buckwheat is also cultivated in German regions such as Lüneburg Heath, Schleswig-Holstein, Westphalia, the Lower Rhine, Upper Franconia, and some German Alpine valleys, and the Eifeil and Hunsrück mountain ranges.2
Buckwheat plants love warmth and can even sustain damage at low temperatures that are still above freezing (anything less than +3 °C). Buckwheat prefers loose, sandy soils, which are slightly to moderately acidic.2 Organically grown, unhulled buckwheat should be suitable for planting in soils that are at least 10 °C. Buckwheat’s intolerance of cold soil means that it cannot be sown in Central Europe before the middle of May at the earliest. Because buckwheat does not reach maturity before ten to twelve weeks after it is sown, you should be careful to plant it early enough to ensure a harvest before the first frost in autumn. Although buckwheat plants produce many flowers, each plant produces only about nine grains (seeds) because the plant is difficult for external pollinators (bees, wind) to pollinate.
Buckwheat can only be cultivated up to a latitude of about 70° north and at altitudes up to 800 m in Europe because the plant is so sensitive to cold. Buckwheat in commercial cultivation is usually harvested using a combine at the end of August and the beginning of September. The yield of buckwheat varies greatly as a result of its sensitivity to weather conditions. According to Wikipedia, the average yield is around 10 to 25 dt/ha, compared to 35.3 dt/ha for wheat. Buckwheat can also serve as a second crop in ideal locations, such as wine-growing regions. When buckwheat is cultivated as a catch crop, its flowering shoots can be used as green fodder six to nine weeks after sowing.2
Buckwheat is considered a honey plant, meaning that it is a good plant for bees to collect nectar from for the production of honey. The yields of honey from buckwheat may be comparable to those from canola or phacelia. Buckwheat nectar contains an average of 46 % sucrose, and each flower produces an average of 0.1 mg sugar per 24-hour period.2
Buckwheat fields flower for a long time, so they provide a welcome food source for many insects. Buckwheat also flowers relatively late in the year, from June/July to August/September, which is outside of the regular flowering period of most agricultural plants.10
What is buckwheat? The term buckwheat generally refers to common buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum). Common buckwheat belong to the genus buckwheat (Fagopyrum) and to knotweed family (Polygonaceae). Buckwheat is a pseudograin, since it is a dicotyledonous rather than a monocotyledonous plant, like true “grains.”11
Another type of buckwheat is Tartary buckwheat, green buckwheat, ku qiao, or bitter buckwheat (Fagopyrum tataricum), which has uses similar to those of common buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum). Tartary buckwheat also has a similar nutritional profile and effects that are comparable to common buckwheat. Tartary buckwheat is a threatened species in Switzerland and Austria, where it blooms from July to September.1
Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) is not the only pseudograin that is nutritious; foxtail amaranth (pendant amaranth, love-lies-bleeding, tassel flower, velvet flower, Amaranthus caudatus) and quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) are also significant nutritional pseudograins. Foxtail amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus) is still eaten today in the Andes region, where it is known as Kiwicha. Other edible varieties of amaranth include red amaranth (blood amaranth, purple amaranth, price’s feather, Mexican grain amaranth, Amaranthus cruentus) and Prince-of-Wales feather (prince’s feather, Amaranthus hypochondriacus).11 Kaniwa or quechua (cañihua, canihua, Chenopodium pallidicaule) is another plant closely related to quinoa and cultivated for its grain-like seeds, and chia seeds (Salvia hispanica) are also a popular pseudograin.
Erb Muesli is gluten free and raw, and it contains sesame, flax seeds (linseed), and hulled golden millet (to avoid the prussic acid found in whole grain millet) in addition to the pseudograins above. You can also try Erb Muesli with Oats!
Less common names for buckwheat include Japanese buckwheat, silverhull, beech wheat, pagan wheat, pagan grain, and pea wheat.2,6
Other Latin names for Fagopyrum esculentum include Fagopyrum cereale, F. sagittatum, F. sarracenicum, F. vulgare, Phegopyrum esculentum, Polygonum cereale, and P. fagopyrum.
The scientific terms for buckwheat greens are Fagopyri herba syn. Herba Fagopyri. Buckwheat greens, which includes both the leave and flowers of the plant that have been harvested and dried while the plant is blooming, are called Fagopyrum esculentum herb.4
In Spanish, buckwheat is called “alforfón” or “trigo sarraceno.” The German names include Echter Buchweizen, Gemeiner Buchweizen, Buchweizen, Heidenkorn, Heiden, Heidensterz, Heidekorn, Heidegraupen, Blenden, Blende, Brein, Bokert, Schwarzes Wlschkorn, Schwarzes Welschkorn, Schwarz-Plent, Schwarzpolenta, Gricken (lit. Grikiai), Tater, Sarazenenkorn, and Türkischer Weizen.2,6