I have been enamored with companion planting ever since I started observing and building permaculture designs. The attraction and repelling properties that plants have on each other is so difficult to detect to humans. A lot of the times you cannot see the effects that a parsley or yarrow plant will have on a tomato or a cabbage plant. The difference of whether a certain insect is present or not is not always evident – until you definitely know that cabbage worms have taken out a whole plot of cabbage overnight. Other relationships are more dramatic, such as the pole bean climbing up the sunflower or cornstalk. SNAP! Of course this is why the 3 Sisters grouping of plants is important :: mythologies arise between the arrangements that plants build within their network. This concept can be taken further, incorporating in more plants that act in the same manner but still add new elements to the sisterhood. This is what I like to call the 7 sisters – 7 plants that fulfill all of the needs of the farm, from soil, to animals, to humans. 7 is a pretty magickal number and corresponds with wholeness, completeness. The 7 sisters are
- Bean (Gourgane)
The 3 sisters refer to the Native American method of growing Corn, Beans, and Squash together on mounds of compost. Double rows of corn can be bordered with bean or pea crops on alternating hills. I’ll be going into more depth on the cultivation of these crops later on in the series. The wide leaves of the Squash plant shade the root system, adding mulch and retaining moisture for the roots of the Bean and Corn plants. The 4th sister is Sunflower; an extension of Corn, Bean can also climb Sunflower while she makes huge heads of seed used for food and especially oil. Nettle, Elderberry, and Buckwheat are my own additions to the cast of companions and I will be sharing their stories over the coming days.
Today’s introduction is to Buckwheat : the Moon
Buckwheat // Sarrasin
Polygonum fagopyrum L. (Polygonacaea)
Annual – arrow shaped leaves, flowers in corymb, coloured white to pink, summer flowering. Stems measuring 30-90cm. Cultivated everywhere, at times rigourously reseeding itself for multiple harvests.
Surprise! Buckwheat is not even technically a wheat, and is related more closely to sorrel, knotweed, and rhubarb. The seeds contain starch, sugar, gum and a good source of lysine, Vitamin B complex, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, copper, manganese, and zinc.
Buckwheat flour can be a bit heavy for bread but can be incorporated into rustic and gluten-free loaves. Add slightly more water to the mix (or less flour) and let the water and flour sit for a few minutes before proceeding to the next step.
The groats made a hearty, porridge-like hot cereal. Where it is popular in Russia and Ukraine it is kasha.
Galettes or pancakes made with the dark flour are baked on stovetops and served with butter, maple syrup, and berry coulees.
In Japanese culture, the soba noodle is made with the dough and are the base of many dishes.
Buckwheat honey is deep, dark, and rich like only buckwheat honey can be. Best enjoyed where honey is the focal point, such as on toast as opposed to being an ingredient in a baked dish.
In beer, Buckwheat is used in the place of barley to create a base to add to the fermentation process.
High amounts of rutin strengthens and maintains capillary health. According to Maude Grieve, an infusion of the herb was used as an eye wash for its astringent properties.
Buckwheat is not generally used as a medicinal herb in the treatment of disorders but is likely an element to disease prevention in the form of fresh, nutrient dense plant food.
To be used as a green manure in a crop rotational plan. Green manures are key to fertilizing the soil in permaculture design. The seed is black, tetrahedral, enclosed within a hull. Generally the hull must be removed prior to consumption, both for humans and for animals, although I’ve not witnessed any effects from ducks breaking into a buckwheat pasture and stripping every stalk clean of leaf and seed.
Sow in the spring or summer at the rate of 2-3lb/1,000sqft. Accumulates phosphorus.
Sensitive to frost though seeds will remain viable if overwintered.
Flowers attract a wide range of insect species, especially bees. Makes for excellent feed for partridge & poultry. The french name of “pig herb” associates that buckwheat also makes for excellent in feed mix for pigs and cattle. In the pasture, the buckwheat makes for excellent feed for sheep and cattle.
Buckwheat grows quickly and is often used to choke out weeds in newly tilled or disturbed soil. Incorporating buckwheat into a regular crop rotational pattern or in between rows is an easy way to trap nitrogen and phosphorus in the soil to release to the surrounding area.
As the seeds of the Buckwheat must be hulled for consumption to take place, there is an unlikely market for this by-product. Buckwheat hulls have been used in upholstery, especially in the making of pillow and mattresses for at least 600 years. They are said to help eliminate stress and anxiety by providing a more comfortable support while sleeping, keeping the head warm in the winter, and cool in the summer.
Wild Buckwheat aka Knotgrass // Renouée des oiseaux, Herbe à cochons
Decoctions of the whole herb have been used in folk treatments for urinary disorders.
The signature of the knots in the plant were applied to the treatment of swollen joints and arthritic disorders. Companion :: Jewelweed Impatiens capensis.
Buckwheat takes her place in the 7 Sisters as being the alpha and the omega. By preparing and closing cultivated garden beds with buckwheat, the soil is nourished and covered, preventing unwanted plants from encroaching into production space. Newly tilled or opened garden can be broadcast seeded with buckwheat early in the season, before the 3 Sisters are planted to prepare growing mounds for rotational production.