Spotlight on Buckwheat

Fagopyrum esculentum flowers, buds, leaf. Research field, UMN St. Paul Campus.

Fagopyrum esculentum flowers, buds, leaf. Research field, UMN St. Paul Campus.

Brought to America in the 1600s by Dutch settlers, buckwheat is on the mind of the average American only when its name is followed by the word pancakes. The plant, Fagopyrum esculentum, was domesticated in Asia some 5,000 to 6,000 years ago and spread in cultivation across Europe. In the U.S. buckwheat was historically grown in highest acreage in Pennsylvania and New York. The greatest acreage has now shifted to the north-central states, hence the relevance for buckwheat field research trials on the University of Minnesota, St. Paul Campus.

View from Buckwheat research field. UMN St. Paul Campus.

View from Buckwheat research field. UMN St. Paul Campus.

Fagopyrum esculentum follows the forb/herb growth pattern, meaning it is a vascular plant with little woody tissue aboveground. It belongs to the Polygonaceae or buckwheat family. Also within this family is the California buckwheat, though of a different species, which I became familiar with when sampling hives for the 2012 National Honey Bee Disease Survey in Southern California.

Fagopyrum esculentum in bloom. Research field, UMN St. Paul Campus.

Fagopyrum esculentum in bloom. Research field, UMN St. Paul Campus.

As for its value as a crop, buckwheat has the benefit of being productive late in the season allowing farmers in states with appropriate soil and weather conditions to utilize it as a double-crop. According to the Northeast Buckwheat Growers and Cornell University, the crop may even be suitable to plant in high-fertility fields when a wet spring delays corn and soybean planting to the point that late planting of these commodity crops may prove uneconomical to the farmer. 2013 definitely yielded a wet spring in Minnesota and North Dakota.

Fagopyrum esculentum leaf close-up. Research field, UMN St. Paul Campus.

Fagopyrum esculentum leaf close-up. Research field, UMN St. Paul Campus.

Buckwheat serves subsequent crops by making phosphorus available in the soil and by acting as a smother crop to discourage weed growth without herbicides. According to University of Missouri Extension, “buckwheat has few reported pests, perhaps because the crop is not extensively grown […] Overall, pests are unlikely to cause any significant loss in a buckwheat field.” What more could a farmer ask for?

Pollen forager on Fagopyrum esculentum. Research field, UMN St. Paul Campus.

Pollen forager on Fagopyrum esculentum. Research field, UMN St. Paul Campus.

She could ask for her favorite beekeeper to set a load of hives next to the crop that’s what! Buckwheat can supply a steady source of pollen and nectar in late summer up until harvest or frost under optimal conditions. The National Honey Board describes buckwheat honey as “dark and full-bodied” and as “contain[ing] more antioxidant compounds than some lighter honeys.” Descriptors that come to mind for me are complex, tangy, and reminiscent of Tootsie Rolls. Whether one loves buckwheat honey or hates it, there’s no doubt it can be a good option for the farmer and a great resource for the beekeeper.

Colony plugged with buckwheat honey. August 2012, Dunn Co., ND.

Colony plugged with buckwheat honey. Katie Lee looks on. August 2012, Dunn Co., ND.

To help increase acreage of my favorite pseudocereal I urge you to wield your consumer power and try one of these 442 recipes using buckwheat next time you plan a meal. Who knows maybe your next breakfast will include a steaming bowl of buckwheat groats! More information on buckwheat can be found at the following websites:

United States Department of Agriculture

University of Cornell, College of Ag and Life Sciences

University of Missouri, Extension

Purdue University, Horticulture

 Tastespotting.com

Written By: Elizabeth Frost

Elizabeth Frost has written 10 post in this blog.

As a seasonal Field and Lab Technician I work within the California Tech Transfer Team from September through May serving Northern California queen breeders. From June through August I work within the Midwest Tech Transfer Team serving both migratory beekeepers and queen breeders in Minnesota and North Dakota. Services I provide include hive inspection, sampling for Varroa and Nosema, testing breeder queen colonies for hygienic behavior, and assisting in collaborative breeding efforts utilizing instrumental insemination. I received my Bachelor of Arts Degree in 2008 from the University of California, Davis with majors in English and Italian and a minor in Entomology. Prior to joining the Tech Transfer Teams within the Bee Informed Partnership I was a Field and Lab Technician at the Harry Laidlaw Honey Bee Research Facility from 2008 to 2012 under the direction of Susan Cobey at the University of California, Davis. I am based out of University of California Cooperative Extension, Butte County in Oroville, CA and University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN.

  • http://www.tabletopfarm.net arron wilder

    Hey Liz! Great blog writing! Very inspiring. Get in touch if you want to.