Buckwheat

Synonyms: beechwheat, saracen corn, Fagopyron esculentum
Scientific Name: Polygonum fagopyrum L.
Family: Polygonaceae (knotweed family)

Habitat

The steppes of the high mountainous regions of Central and East Asia.

Constituents

Flavonoids, phenolic acids and the naphthodianthrone derivative fagopyrin.

Description

The name buckwheat derives from the Dutch Boek-weit, meaning beech-wheat, which is also the meaning of our German Buchweizen. But buckwheat is related neither to the beech nor to wheat: it is in fact a close cousin to sorrel and rhubarb. All three belong to the knotweed family, named for the thick-knotted joints on their stems. Buckwheat is a slender annual with an erect, reddish stem and triangular leaves. From June to September cluster-like inflorescences, consisting of numerous red or sometimes white florets, sprout from the leaf axils along the stems. The latter can grow to a length of 60 centimeters. A single plant can produce 300 to 1800 perfumed flowers, each of which blooms for only one day - such that a buckwheat field in full bloom resembles a meadow covered with a blanket of red-tinged snow. The small, dark brown nuts with their three sharp edges ripen inside the flowers. With its extra long root hairs, buckwheat can find minerals and water deep underground, allowing it to thrive in poor, sandy soil, such as in foothills and high mountains.

Uses

The flavonoids contained in buckwheat support blood flow and nutrient exchange in the smallest blood vessels, the capillaries and venules. They also diminish the tendency for fluid from the capillaries to escape into the surrounding tissue. In this way they help to reduce water retention. In addition, the flavonoids have antioxidant properties.

Containing many plant secondary metabolites, extracts of buckwheat are helpful when applied externally to protect and revitalize the skin.

Interesting Facts

The scientific name Polygonum is derived from the Greek polygonos, meaning many-angled, which describes the shape of the fruit. The epithet fagoyrum is composed of the Latin words fagus (beech) and pyros (wheat), corresponding to the common name. In Germany, the earliest record of the name is found in documents from Lüneburg dating from 1385. The name was given because buckwheat fruits are used like wheat and are similar in appearance to the fruits of the beech tree, the beech nuts.

The oldest buckwheat located to date was found in the steppes to the north of the Black Sea, in what today is the Ukraine. Buckwheat fruits were discovered in this region from Scythian settlements during the Ice Age (7/6th and 5/4th centuries BC). Trade and The Crusades spread buckwheat as far as the Netherlands. The main regions of cultivation in Germany used to be areas with poor sandy or peaty soil, on which buckwheat thrives.

Such areas include the Lüneburg Heath and Mecklenburg. Dutch settlers took the plant to North America. In the course of the 18th century, with the spread of intensive farming and the use of fertilizers, buckwheat began to lose its importance. Today it has found new popularity among those looking for a gluten-free alternative to cereals, forged a niche

for itself in agriculture. On a global scale this food source is not very significant: the largest areas of cultivation are found in China, Russia and the Ukraine.

The nutty-tasting buckwheat fruits can be used as an alternative to cereals and are rich in vitamins and minerals, especially calcium and vitamins of the B-complex, as well as valuable vegetable protein. A buckwheat porridge known as Grechnevaya Kasha is very popular in Poland and Russia, and most of us have heard of bliny, which originally came from Russia. Europe has also produced numerous buckwheat recipes. The Italians, for example, use buckwheat flour for a pasta called pizzocheri; the French make pancakes from buckwheat flour, which they know as blé noir, or black wheat. Groats were popular with seafarers in the 17th and 18th centuries because they were nutritious and long-lasting. The sweet-scented and nectar-rich buckwheat flowers are highly valued as bee forage. Hens are given buckwheat as feed concentrate; pigs eat buckwheat bran.

The medical significance of buckwheat was discovered only recently, however. Research revealed it to be one of the plants richest in flavonoids, and in 1999 it was voted medicinal plant of the year.

The Plant at Dr. Hauschka Skin Care

For processing in skin care products, buckwheat is harvested when it is still in bloom with flowers and before it is ripe and produces fruit. The best time for harvest is around the summer solstice on 21 June, when the flavonoid content is at its highest.

The buckwheat used in Dr. Hauschka Skin Care products is obtained from organic cultivation in Germany. The dried plant (the so-called crude drug) offers protective, fortifying and revitalzing properties for use in Soothing Mask.

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