Genus: Fagopyrum esculentum
• Hardy to zone 10
If you have a vacant patch of garden, you can turn it into a haven for bees and many other beneficial insects by planting buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum). When sown a half-inch deep in warm soil, buckwheat seeds will sprout in less than five days and begin blooming within a month. In late summer and fall, buckwheat will continue to flower and set seeds until the first frost. Expect plenty of buzzers to stop in for a sip of nectar during the morning hours, and though the plants may wilt in midday heat, supplemental water seldom is needed to help them recover by morning.
Buckwheat is not a true grain, so the flour made from the triangular black seeds is ideal for people who adhere to a gluten-free diet. Buckwheat pancakes, made from buckwheat flour, and Japanese soba noodles (which are usually made from 80 percent buckwheat flour and 20 percent wheat flour) are only two ways to cook this ancient crop. Kasha is made from dehulled, roasted buckwheat kernels, and can be combined with pasta, garlic and onions, used in casseroles, or as a base for savory stuffings. Groats are dehulled buckwheat kernels that are slowly simmered, like rice. Use cooked, chilled groats to make a protein-rich dessert by mixing them with whipped cream, nuts and fruits. Or use warm groats as a high-fiber alternative to oatmeal, adding honey or other flavorings to taste.
As recent research suggests, buckwheat in any form may be able to help stabilize blood sugar levels for those with diabetes. If you don’t grow your own, buckwheat is widely available at health-food stores, or you can buy buckwheat products by mail from such companies as Bob’s Red Mill ( www.BobsRedMill.com ) or The Birkett Mills ( www.TheBirkettMills.com ), an upstate New York buckwheat mill that has been in business since 1797. In addition to groats, flour and kasha, buckwheat can be used to create hull pillows, which some people believe promote sound sleep because air circulates better through the hulls than through feather or polyester-filled pillows. Buckwheat seed for garden planting can be purchased by the ounce at farm supply stores.