1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Buckwheat

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BUCKWHEAT, the fruit (so-called seeds) of Fagopyrum esculentum (natural order Polygonaceae), a herbaceous plant, native of central Asia, but cultivated in Europe and North America; also extensively cultivated in the Himalaya, as well as an allied species F. tataricum. The fruit has a dark brown tough rind enclosing the kernel or seed, and is three-sided in form, with sharp angles, similar in shape to beech-mast, whence the name from the Ger. Buchweizen, beechwheat. Buckwheat is grown in Great Britain only to supply food for pheasants and to feed poultry, which devour the seeds with avidity. In the northern countries of Europe, however, the seeds are employed as human food, chiefly in the form of cakes, which when baked thin have an agreeable taste, with a darkish somewhat violet colour. The meal of buckwheat is also baked into crumpets, as a favourite dainty among Dutch children, and in the Russian army buckwheat groats are served out as part of the soldiers’ rations, which they cook with butter, tallow or hemp-seed oil. Buckwheat is also used as food in the United States, where “buckwheat cakes” are a national dish; and by the Hindus it is eaten on “bart” or fast days, being one of the phalahas, or lawful foods for such occasions. When it is used as food for cattle the hard sharp angular rind must first be removed. As compared with the principal cereal grains, buckwheat is poor in nitrogenous substances and fat; but the rapidity and ease with which it can be grown render it a fit crop for very poor, badly tilled land. An immense quantity of buckwheat honey is collected in Russia, bees showing a marked preference for the flowers of the plant. The plant is also used as a green fodder.

In the United States buckwheat is sown at the end of June or beginning of July, the amount of seed varying from 3 to 5 pecks to the acre. The crop matures rapidly and continues blooming till frosts set in, so that at harvest, which is usually set to occur just before this period, the grain is in various stages of ripeness. It is cut by hand or with the self-delivery reaper, and allowed to lie in the swath for a few days and then set up in shocks. The stalks are not tied into bundles as in the case of other grain crops, the tops of the shocks being bound round and held together by twisting stems round them. The threshing is done on the field in most cases.