Buckwheat is not, as the name of the plant implies, a cereal; it is a member of the Polygonaceae family of flowering plants that includes docks, sorrels and rhubarb. There are different species of buckwheat but common buckwheat, Fagopyrum esculentum, is the species most often grown in the west.

Buckwheat is a broad-leafed, herbaceous, annual plant which, after flowering, produces a fruit referred to as an achene, which means it contains a single seed that doesn't open at maturity. The tough outer hull is a triangular shaped, dark brown shell which has a hard, fibrous structure and surrounds the seed coat, endosperm and embryo tightly.

Green manure crop
Buckwheat is commonly grown as a green manure crop to increase soil fertility. Grown for this purpose, it is usually cut down before flowering or producing seed when the stems are soft as they decompose quicker and are easier to incorporate into the soil.
 
Buckwheat flowers, bees and hoverflies
Buckwheat produces pretty little pink or white flowers that are loved by bees and hoverflies. The latter are very beneficial, particularly in organic systems, because their larvae feed on aphids. Therefore, growing buckwheat alongside vegetable crops will keep the pest load low without the need for pesticides.

Creating a habitat for bees and hoverflies is reason enough for growing buckwheat, but the seed also provides a very nutritious food.
 
Buckwheat nutrition
The protein content in common buckwheat groats is similar to that in cereal grains and ranges from 13 to 14%. However, unlike cereal proteins, buckwheat proteins have a well-balanced amino acid composition containing all eight essential amino acids, including lysine. Due to the high lysine content, buckwheat proteins have a higher biological value than cereal proteins such as those of wheat, barley, rye, and corn.
 
Buckwheat is a very good source of manganese as well as copper, magnesium, phosphorous and dietary fibre. Buckwheat also provides iron, essential for healthy blood, and can protect against osteoporosis because of its high boron and calcium levels.
 
Finally, the flavonoid rutin was first discovered in buckwheat in the 19th century, which is effective in reducing blood cholesterol as well as improving strength and flexibility of blood capillaries.


SUMMER BUCKWHEAT BREAKFAST

Serves 1

Handful of sprouted buckwheat
1 dessertspoon pumpkin seeds
1 dessertspoon sunflower seeds
125ml hemp milk
1 teaspoon honey
Handful of summer berries 
1 dessertspoon chia seeds

Place the sprouted buckwheat, pumpkin and sunflower seeds in a bowl with the honey, pour over the hemp milk and leave overnight.

The next morning, add the berries and serve topped with chia seeds.

 

BUCKWHEAT SALAD WITH ROAST BEETS & ROCKET

serves 4 generously

250g raw buckwheat, soaked overnight
4 medium beetroot, peeled & quartered
4 red onions, peeled & quartered
4 cloves garlic, peeled
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 dessertspoon balsamic vinegar
Small bunch parsley, roughly chopped
Small handful basil leaves, roughly chopped
2 handfuls rocket
Black pepper & salt
Olive oil & hemp seeds

Oven 180°C/350°F/Gas 4

Drain and rinse the buckwheat, then pop into a saucepan of boiling water and cook for 8 - 10 minutes or until just tender. Drain thoroughly, then spread out on a tray or large plate to cool down. Set aside.

In a roasting pan, toss the beetroot in the olive oil and balsamic vinegar, sprinkle with sea salt, cover with a lid or foil, and pop in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, toss well and add the onions and garlic. Cook for a further 20 minutes. Turn up the oven heat to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6 and return uncovered to oven for 10 mins or until tender and just beginning to caramelise. Remove from oven and cool.

Tip the roasted veg into a bowl, add the buckwheat and mix together. Add the herbs, rocket, a good twist of black pepper and salt to taste. Gently combine and divide between four bowls. Top with a little extra olive oil and hemp seeds to serve.

Daphne Lambert is an award winning chef, author and founding member and CEO of food education charity, the Green Cuisine Trust. She is an expert in the field of health and nutrition and runs our seasonal Living Nutrition retreats, unfolding the relationship between land, food, health and vitality. 

Visit the course page to find out more about Living Nutrition.