Buckwheat viewed from a botanical and historical perspective
In old scientific treatises buckwheat is mainly found as a food plant and only rarely as a medicinal herb. In many herbal books it even goes unmentioned. The only thing people usually know about it is the use of buckwheat flour as a preparation for pancakes. In professional books buckwheat is rarely mentioned in the list of medicinal herbs. However, it is one of the most interesting herbs for the treatment of vascular and vein disorders.
Buckwheat, Fagopyrum esculentum viewed from a botanical perspective
There are some plant species that do not belong to the Grass family (Poaceae), but that have so much in common with the grains that they are called ‘mock grains’. They are plants from a limited number of families of the dicots, the dicots that bear dry, non-dehiscent, one-seeded fruits (nuts). Those fruits have a long shelf life because they contain relatively little water and are rich in starch and proteins. Ground seeds can be processed into porridge, cakes are baked and in the past beer is also brewed.
In Europe, this mainly concerns buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum), a species of the knotweed family (Polygonaceae) of the genus Fagopyrum MILL .; sorrel and rhubarb also belong to the same family. Buckwheat is an annual plant, grows to a height of about 80 centimeters with thickened stems at the nodes that often turn red like the leaves. The leaf blade is arrow-shaped and long-stalked. Flowers are in the leaf axils and at the end of the stems; white to light pink. A buckwheat field therefore looks very different from a grain field.
The single-seeded fruit is triangular in cross section and about 5mm long when ripe. There is some resemblance with a beechnut, and the Dutch name is derived from this, from book, beech and whey, wheat, the scientific genus name Fagopyrum also has the same meaning, from the Latifian fagus, beech and the Greek pyros, wheat. The fruit wall of the nut is hard and before grinding the fruit must first be peeled. Inside the pericarp is the seed, filled with endosperm (germ white), and an embryo that lies curved in the endosperm. The endosperm is of course the nutritious part and it contains about 70% starch and about 10% proteins, including lysine, one of the essential amino acids. The endosperm also contains the alkaloid rutin, one of the substances sometimes classified as vitamins (vitamin P). In addition to Fagopyrum esculentum, another species is cultivated, the French buckwheat Fagopyrum tataricum. Both species probably originated from the same wild ancestor, the perennial Fagopyrum cymosum. The steppe in Central and East Asia is the origin of this species. Production also started in Asia and only later came to Europe. In China, Japan and other Asian countries, the two types are still important crops.
From poor food to rich medicinal herbs
Buckwheat spice reached Central Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries via Turkey and Russia and it is in the 14th century that buckwheat appears in the Nürenberg archives. There it was cultivated in the herb gardens of hospitals. Hieronymus Bock gave the first detailed description of the plant in his herbal book of 1546. He is convinced that ‘Heydenkom’ is identical with ‘Ocymum’ by Dioscorides. As an indication he mentions: ‘erweichet den hart bauch I gewet vil windigkeif and’ bringet wieder umb die Verlorne Milch. Only the diuretic effect ‘treibet den harn’ can be explained with the current knowledge by the flavonoids content.
The juice from the green herb was formerly used for eye disorders and used as a sneeze: ‘Der safft inn die nasen gerochen / und die Augen hart zu gehalten / cleans das Hirn Und machet sniesen. Finally, he summarizes its power and its effect in a relative sense by stating that it can only be useful as food for the poor and as animal feed.
Cultivation of buckwheat herb as a medicine
Today, two Fagopyrum species are planted as agricultural crops. On
pharmacologically, only the herb of the real buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum Moench) is of interest.
The cultivation of buckwheat does not make high demands in terms of soil type, and the fruit ripens in a very short time, namely between 10 and 12 weeks. It takes about 7 to 8 weeks between sowing and harvesting the herb. In any case, cultivation and harvesting must be carefully planned, as this determines quality because of the ‘rutoside’ content. During the vegetation period, the rutoside content reaches its maximum in the early flowering stage and decreases sharply during fruit ripening.
Rutoside production is closely linked to photosynthesis and is strongly promoted by light, shaded plants contain considerably less rutoside. The harvest will therefore best be harvested late in the day and at the end of June on the longest day. After harvesting, the buckwheat herb must be dried very quickly and under a high temperature (approx. 105 ° C).
And so the plant for poor sandy soil still becomes a professional agricultural crop.