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Buckwheat

Fagopyrum esculentum

Herbs gallery - Buckwheat

Common names

  • Beech Wheat
  • Buckwheat
  • Common Buckwheat

Buckwheat is an annually growing herb that usually grows to a height of approximately 0.7 meters. This herb bears leaves that have a soft surface and are shaped like the heart. The flowers of buckwheat are small and have a pinkish or white hue. They are found growing in clusters at the terminals of the stems. Even the fruits produced by this plant are small and a lot angular like a nutlet having endosperm that is floury and, hence, known as buckwheat. Buckwheat is a quasi cereal - flour that has been used by people since prehistoric times.

According to available documents, the common buckwheat was domesticated as well as cultivated for the first time inland in Southeast Asia, perhaps some time around 6.000 BC. Subsequently, this herb spreads to other regions of the world, for instance Central Asia and Tibet and then to the Middle East and European countries. Most possibly, the domestication of the plant occurred in the western region of Yunnan in China. The Balkans have documented the cultivation and use of buckwheat in Europe as long back as in the Middle Neolithic era (circa 4,000 BC). The highest elevated land where this herb was domesticated and is being cultivated even now is Yunnan of the periphery of the Tibetan Plateau. In effect, buckwheat is among the initial crops that the Europeans had introduced into North America. Most recently, i.e. by 2006, the spreading of the plant across the globe was complete - precisely speaking, when a species of the herb was developed in Canada and extensively cultivated in China.

It may be mentioned that buckwheat is a crop that grows for a short while or short season that thrives on poorly fertile or acidic soils, provided that the soil is well drained. It needs to be emphasized that providing excessive of fertilizers, particularly nitrogen, would reduce the yields of the crop. In places where the climatic conditions are hot, this herb can be grown without much difficulty by sowing quite later in the season to enable the crops to bloom during cooler weather. The presence of pollinators is beneficial, as it increases the yields of the crop significantly. The buckwheat flower also yields nectar that makes a dark colored honey. In addition to its edible uses, the buckwheat plants are occasionally used in the form of a green manure. It is also planted to prevent soil erosion or as a cover for wildlife as well as for their fodder.

Parts used

Aerial parts.

Uses

Buckwheat possesses a number of therapeutic properties and, hence, has been used traditionally over the centuries to treat a variety of different medical problems. Primarily, this herb is prescribed to treat the symptoms of capillary and venous problems, such as bleeding, bruising, varicose veins, retinal hemorrhage, hemorrhoids, bleeding gums, edema and poor blood circulation. In addition, the herb has also turned out to be a popular food supplement and is commercially available at health food stores. It may be noted that buckwheat is a vital source for isolation of rutin. Some of the others that enclose rutin include Viola tricolor var. maxima flowers (20 per cent), Eucalyptus macrorhyncha leaves (10 per cent to 24 per cent) and Styphnolobium japonicum flower buds (approximately up to 30 per cent).

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Rutin as well as other flavonoids are known to possess vascular protective, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These substances enclosed by buckwheat facilitate in enhancing the flexibility of the veins as well as to support blood circulation throughout the body. At the same time, they also have a wide assortment of different biological activities since their phenolic hydroxyl groups are able to vaguely interact with proteins.

The leaves as well as the shoots of the flowering buckwheat plant possess acrid, astringent and vasodilator (a medication or nerve that dilates the blood vessels) properties. These parts of the herb are used internally in treating high blood pressure (hypertension), varicose veins, gout, chilblains (inflammation of the hands and feet owing to exposure to cold or moisture), damages caused by radiation and other health problems. To obtain the maximum benefits of using buckwheat, it should be used with vitamin C as this helps in absorption of this herbal medication by the body. Usually, preparations with buckwheat are combined with lime flowers belonging to the Tilia species - this is the precise treatment for bleeding into the retina. A poultice prepared using the seeds of the buckwheat plant has been used traditionally to restore the production and flow of breast milk in nursing mothers. In addition, an infusion prepared with the herb has been used in treating erysipelas - a severe skin infection. In fact, buckwheat is also used in homeopathy, which uses a remedy prepared from the leaves of the herb. This homeopathic medicine is used to treat liver problems and eczema.

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The leaves of the herb are edible and can be consumed both raw and cooked in the similar manner as spinach. While the leaves are not very tasty when they are eaten raw, the flavour improves when cooked. As the buckwheat leaves have a rich content of rutin, they form a very healthy dietary supplement.

The seeds of the buckwheat plant are also edible and can be consumed raw or cooked. The seeds of the herb have a nutty flavour despite having a slightly coarse texture. Primarily, the seeds are ground into a powder and used as a cereal and can also be used to make noodles, breads, pancakes and other items. The pounded seeds can also be used in the form of thickeners while preparing soups and the like. Some people also soak the buckwheat seeds in warm water overnight and leave them to sprout for a few days. These sprouted seeds are added to salads. In addition, the buckwheat seeds may also be used to brew an excellent beer. It may be noted that the buckwheat seeds are rich in vitamin B6 content.

In addition to its remedial and edible uses, the buckwheat is also an excellent green manure plant and may be used to reclaim soils and sub-soils that have been degraded badly. In effect, many people plant buckwheat to prevent soil erosion. The stems of the plant also yield a blue dye, while the flowers of buckwheat produce a brown dye. In addition, the buckwheat fruits or grains are occasionally used to fill pillows.

Habitat and cultivation

As mentioned before, buckwheat is indigenous to the central and northern regions of Asia. In several regions across the world, buckwheat is cultivated and harvested as a cereal crop. In addition, this herb is also cultivated for extracting the flavonoids enclosed by the plant for medicinal purpose.

Buckwheat can be grown without much effort. This herb has a preference for light or sandy soils, but has the aptitude to survive in almost all conditions, including infertile, heavy (clay) or acid soils and even sub-soils. Although the herb has a preference for cool climatic conditions, it can also thrive in dry and arid regions. It can also adapt to partial shade or sunlit conditions. However, irrespective of the soil condition, it needs a well-drained soil to grow properly and yield maximum crops.

Generally, buckwheat is cultivated for the plant's edible leaves and seeds. In effect, the buckwheat has the aptitude to produce a crop of leaves in just eight weeks from the day of sowing the seeds, while it produces a seed crop in 100 days. There are a number of named verities of the herb. There is no fixed timing for the seeds to mature, and they ripen over a period of many weeks often making it difficult to harvest. Although this herb is unable to withstand frost, they are resilient to diseases and invasion by insects. The buckwheat flowers possess a sweet honey scent that attracts numerous bees and hoverflies to the plant helping it to pollinate.

Buckwheat plants can be grown quite easily. The buckwheat plant is generally propagated by its seeds. The seeds are sown during the period from the middle of spring to early summer in a cold frame. The seeds germinate very fast - within five days. While the seeds sown early in the season are for growing plants for their seeds or leaves, the seeds sown during the later part of the season are basically used as a leaf crop or for green manure.

Constituents

Buckwheat leaves, which have a number of remedial properties,enclose flavonoids (or the ostensible bio-flavonoids). Among these bio-flavonoids, rutin or quercetin-3-rutinodise is present in rich amounts - usually around two to three per cent and in improved cultivars it may be as high as eight per cent. These flavonoids are said to be responsible for most of the remedial activities of the buckwheat leaves. In addition, the flowers as well as the husks of the plant's seeds enclose around 0.03 per cent of dianthrones, especially fagopyrine.

Usual dosage

Remedial preparations with buckwheat ought to be taken as per recommendations. An herbal tea with the dried herb can be prepared by adding two grams of the herb to 150 ml of water. For best results, drink two to three cups of this herbal tea every day for a period of 1 to 2 months. In fact, preparations are available commercially containing the dried herb, unadulterated flavonoid extracts or developed extracts of the herb.

Side effects and cautions

Like using any other medication, preparations with buckwheat may also result in a number of side effects and, hence, they ought to be used with caution. For instance, fagopyrine present in the flowers and the seed husks of buckwheat may result in photo toxicity in animals when they consume the herb in large amounts. People using this herb ought to exercise caution as buckwheat is known to result in susceptibility to dermatitis owing to sunlight or high powered light from artificial sources.

Collection and harvesting

Generally, the leaves as well as the blooming stems of buckwheat are harvested as soon as the plants begin to produce flowers. The harvested parts of buckwheat are dried and stored for use when needed. It is important to store the dried harvested parts of the plant in a place away from light since the active constituents are likely to debase when exposed to light.

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