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Buckwheat
Buckwheat
(Fagopyrum esculentum)
(Polygonum fagopyrum)

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Buckwheat

Botanical: Polygonum fagopyrum
Family: N.O. Polygonaceae

---Synonyms---Brank. Beechwheat. Le Blé noir. Sarrasin. Buchweizen. Heidekorm. French. Wheat. Saracen Corn.
---Part Used---The fruit.
---Habitat---A native of Northern or Central Asia. Largely cultivated in the United States.



---Description---The Buckwheat is not really a native plant, and when found apparently wild in this country, it is only on cultivated land, where it is grown as food for pheasants, which are very partial to it. One of its local names, 'French Wheat,' points to then recognition of the fact that it is a foreign grain.

It is a native of Central Asia, cultivated in China and other Eastern countries as a bread-corn and was first brought to Europe from Asia by the Crusaders, and hence in France is called 'Saracen Corn.'

It is a herbaceous plant, with a knotted stem a foot or two in height, round and hollow, generally green, but sometimes tinged with red, lateral branches growing out of the joints, which give off alternately from opposite sides, heart-shaped, or somewhat arrowshaped leaves, and from July to September, spreading panicles of numerous light freshcoloured flowers, which are perfumed. They are dimorphic, i.e. there are two forms of flowers, one with long styles and short stamens, the other with short styles and long stamens and are very attractive to bees. It is frequently cultivated in the Middle United States of Arnerica and also in Brabant as food for bees, and an immense quantity of Buckwheat honey is also collected in Russia. It gives a particularly pleasant flavour to honey.

The nut (so-called 'seed') has a dark brown, tough rind, enclosing the kernel or seed, and is three-sided in form, with sharp angles, resembling the triangular Beech-nut, hence the name of the plant, Buckwheat, a corruption of Boek-weit, the Dutch form of the name, adopted with its culture from the Dutch, meaning 'Beech-wheat' (German Buchweizen), a translation of the Latin name Fagopyrum (Latin fagus, a beech).

By some botanists, the Buckwheat is separated from the Polygonums, receiving the name Fagopyrum esculentum (Moench).

The nut contains a floury endosperm, and though rarely employed in this country as human food is extensively cultivated for that purpose in Northern Europe, North America (where it also goes by the name of Indian Wheat) and in India and the East.

Buckwheat flour is occasionally used for bread, but more frequently employed for cakes, which when baked have an agreeable taste, with a darkish, somewhat violet colour and are a national dish throughout America in the winter. They are baked on gridirons and eaten with maple syrup as breakfast cakes. The meal of Buckwheat is also baked into crumpets, which are popular among Dutch children and are said to be nutritious and easily digested.

By the Hindus, Buckwheat, which is extensively cultivated in the Himalayas, is eaten on 'bart' or fast days, being one of the lawful foods for such occasions. Polygonum cymosum (Meism.), the Chinese perennial Buckwheat, and P. Tartaricum Ge.), the Tartary or Rough Buckwheat, also constitute an important source of flour in the East. In Japan, Buckwheat is called Soba, and its flour is prepared in various ways; kneaded with hot water to make a dough, Soba-neri; a kind of macaroni, Soba-kiri; and so on. The grains, steamed and dried, are eaten boiled or made into bread or Manju, a small cake. Its young leaves are eaten as a vegetable and its stalks are used to feed cattle.

In the Russian Army, Buckwheat groats are served out as part of the soldiers' rations and cooked with butter, tallow or hemp-seed oil. In Germany it forms an ingredient in pottage, puddings and other food.

Beer may be brewed from the grain, and by distillation it yields an excellent spirit, in Danzig much used in the preparation of cordial waters.

The blossoms may be used for dyeing a brown colour.

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---Cultivation---It is sown in May or June and ripens rapidly, thriving in the poorest soil. The flowers appear about July and the seeds ripen in October, but so tender are the plants that a single night's frost will destroy a whole crop. As a grian, Buckwheat is chiefly cultivated in England to supply food for pheasants and to feed poultry, which devour the seeds with avidity and thrive on it - hence one of its local names: Fat Hen. Mixed with bran chaff or grain, its seeds are sometimes given to horses, either whole or broken. When used as food for cattle, the hard angular rind must first be removed. The meal is considered specially good for fattening pigs: 8 bushels of Buckwheat have been said to go as far as 12 bushels of barleymeal and a bushel of the seeds to go further than 2 bushels of oats, though all farmers do not quite agree as to the superior food value of Buckwheat. If it is given to pigs at first in too large quantities, they will show symptoms of intoxication. As compared with the principal cereal grains, it is poor in nitrogenous substances and fat, its nutritious properties are greatly inferior to wheat, though as a food it ranks much higher than rice; but the rapidity and the ease with which it can be grown renders it a fit crop for very poor, badly-tilled land which will produce scarcely anything else, its culture, compared with that of other grain, being attended with little expense.

When grown by the preservers of game as a food for pheasants, it is often left standing, as it affords both food and shelter to the birds during the winter. With some farmers it is the practice to sow Buckwheat for the purpose only of ploughing it into the ground as a manure for the land. The best time for ploughing it in is when it is in full blossom, allowing the land to rest till it decomposes.

Whilst green, it serves as food for sheep and oxen, and mixed with other provender it may also with advantage be given to horses. If sown in April, two green crops may be procured during the season.

The best mode of harvesting this grain is said to be by pulling it out of the ground like flax, stripping off the seeds with the hand and collecting these into aprons or cloths tied round the waist.

In the United States, Buckwheat is sown at the end of June or beginning of July, the amount of seed varying from 3 to 5 pecks to the acre. The crop matures rapidly and continues blooming till the frosts set in, so that at harvest, which is usually set to occur just before this period, the grain is in various stages of ripeness. There, after cutting, it is allowed to lie in swaths for a few days and then set up in shocks. Threshing is done on the field in most cases.

It grows so quickly that it will kill off any weeds.

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---Constituents---The leaves have been found by Schunch to contain a crystalline colouring principle (1 part in a thousand) identical with the Rutin or Rutic acid previously discovered by Weiss in the leaves of the common Rue and probably existing in the leaves of the Holly.

The seeds contain starch, sugar, gum, and various matters soluble in alcohol. A small amount of the glucoside Indican has been found.

---Medicinal Action and Uses---Astringent, acrid.

An infusion of the herb has been used in erysipelas, and a poultice made of the flour and buttermilk for restoring the flow of milk in nurses.

The breakfast cakes are very heating, and in many people cause severe itching, (The Buckwheat used in America to-day is so refined that these symptoms are not liable to occur. - EDITOR.) felt chiefly after removing the clothing at night, with an eruption of vesicles. The faeces may become so glutinous that expulsion is difficult.

---Other Species---
The FALSE BUCKWHEAT, or Arrow-leaved Tear Thumb, is Polygonum sagittarum (Linn.), a North American plant that has become naturalized in County Kerry, Ireland.

It is an annual, with a rough stem, 6 inches to 2 feet high, bearing turned-back prickles. The leaves are oblong-ovate to arrow-shaped and the flowers white, in bloom from July to October.

It has been used with success in nephritic colic, relieving the pains caused by gravel.

The CLIMBING BUCKWHEAT, or Black Bindweed, also called Bearbind and Cornbind, is Polygonum Convolvulus (Linn.), a troublesome climbing cornfield weed, which occurs indifferently in all soils.

Its stems are 1 to 3 feet long, angular, twining or trailing, bearing leaves 1 to 3 inches long, from heart-shaped to arrowshaped. The flowers are very small, in loose axillary spikes, about four together, greenishwhite, often tinged with red, and are insectpollinated, containing nectar secreted in glands near the base of the stamens. The fruits are three-angled, bearing a resemblance to those of Buckwheat.

It is largely distributed by the seeds being sown with those of the crop among which it has grown. Spraying as for Charlock (with solutions of copper-, iron- or ammonium sulphate) will largely destroy this weed in cereals. It may be injurious to animals, owing to mechanical injury from the seeds when fed with corn, horses are said to have been killed in this way.

See BISTORT.

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Bear in mind "A Modern Herbal" was written with the conventional wisdom of the early 1900's. This should be taken into account as some of the information may now be considered inaccurate, or not in accordance with modern medicine.

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