Many years ago we made a surprising discovery while we were testing different crops in our tropical garden. To our delight, we found that buckwheat grows remarkably well as a new food crop for Costa Rica.
Northerners are familiar with buckwheat as an ingredient in pancakes and multigrain breads, or as a cereal known as groats or kasha. Buckwheat lettuce sprouts are also popular as a salad green, much like alfalfa sprouts. This versatile food crop is a nutritional superfood that has more protein than rice, wheat, millet or corn, and is high in the essential amino acids lysine and arginine, in which major cereal crops are deficient.
Buckwheat also contains no gluten, and is therefore safe for people with gluten allergy or celiac disease; it’s high in iron, zinc, selenium, manganese, magnesium copper and phosphorus; and it contains a phytochemical called rutin, which is beneficial for the cardiovascular system and prevents free-radical oxidation into potentially harmful cholesterol oxides.
On top of it all, buckwheat is easy to grow and has no serious pest problems. Despite its name, it is not related to wheat, but rather to sorrel and rhubarb. Its pyramid-shaped seeds are easily sown and harvested in garden beds or fields. We till the soil to eliminate weeds, then plant the seeds two inches apart and one inch deep, and mulch the bed with a two-inch layer of grass clippings to control the weeds.
In two months the broadleaf plants will begin to bloom in white flowers, and a month later the brown seeds are ready to harvest. We put the seeds through a corn mill to make flour and then sift out the outer husks. The flour can be used to make pancakes, bread, cereal or blended drinks mixed with milk and bananas.
Although growing buckwheat is easy, finding seeds to plant is often difficult. Fortunately, we’ve had a bumper crop of buckwheat seeds and we’ll offer them on our June website newsletter.
This article first appeared in 2014