Buckwheat, Fagopyrum esculentum, is not really a wheat at all—it belongs to the family Polygonaceae, and hence is a dicotyledonous plant, not a monocotyledonous species. However, the starchy seeds of buckwheat are utilized in much the same way as the cereal grains of cultivated grasses, such as wheat (Triticum aestivum).
The seeds of buckwheat can be used directly as poultry or animal feed. Processed, the seeds can be cooked as porridge for humans, or they can be milled to yield a nutritious flour that can be made into a variety of foods, such as pancakes and biscuits. Technically, the seeds of buckwheat are achenes (simple, dry, one-celled, one-seeded fruits), as they are surrounded by dry, brown fruit coats, and are slightly winged.
Fagopyrum esculentum was probably derived from the wild species F. cymosum, a perennial species with rhizomes (underground storage organs) that occurs naturally in China and northern India. Buckwheat has been cultivated in China for about 1,500 years, and was introduced to Europe (via Germany) in the fifteenth century, and arrived in England about A.D. 1600. From Europe it was taken to the American colonies and to Africa. The production of buckwheat has been declining in countries where it has been popular in the recent past, such as the former Soviet Union, France and the United States, but against this trend, production has increased in Canada since the 1960s.
Cultivated buckwheat is an annual plant that grows well in poor soils, reaching a height of about 24 in (60 cm). Another attractive feature to farmers is the excellent resistance of buckwheat to many insect pests and diseases. Possession of such resistance is fortunate, since breeding for improvements by conventional methods has proved to be difficult.
See also Crops.