Buckwheat

(Fagopyrum esculentum) Both the growing plant and the straw are poisonous to livestock, and in man an allergic rash may occur from eating foods made from buckwheat flour (P North). That, though, is rare, and it was widely cultivated once for cattle and hen food, as well as for a poor man's flour. Bread made from this was described by Gerard as "of easie digestion, and speedily passeth through the belly, but yeeldeth little nourishment". Cobbett, too, disliked buckwheat bread, finding it heavy, and meriting its French name, Pain Noir. But he liked buckwheat cakes enough to give the recipe (see Cobbett. 1822). They are like pancakes, and these pancakes are a national dish in America in the winter, made more or less as Cobbett suggested, and served with maple syrup as breakfast cakes. This meal is also made into crumpets in Holland (Grieve. 1931), and the porridge known as Kasha in Russia is also made from it (Brouk). The flour is eaten by Hindus during their fast days, being one of the grains lawful for fasts (Pandey).

Apart from all this, buckwheat grain was used at one time in making gin (C P Johnson), and one can even get a blue dye from the straw (Schery). The Japanese are fond of buckwheat noodles, called Soba, and Japanese goldsmiths have long used buckwheat dough to collect gold dust in their shops. So the grain is considered a potent charm for collecting riches. Every Japanese family eats buckwheat noodles on New Year's Eve to get the luck for making money in the coming year, and every household serves soba at feast times, as, for instance, when there is a move to a new house, when a Japanese will give a present of soba to all his neighbours (Schery). There is a folk tale from Japan that tells how an ogress's blood flowed on to buckwheat plants, whose roots are even now red because of what happened then (Seki).

Strangely, there is very little in the way of folk belief attached to it, though Turgenev (Fathers and sons) must have known at least one superstition: "Arina Vlasyevna ... believed that if on Easter Sunday the lights did not go out at vespers, then there would be a good crop of buckwheat". The only other belief recorded refers to the time of sowing - according to Pennsylvania Germans the proper day is the Seven Sleepers (27 June) (Fogel).

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