Buckwheat & Sorrel
Common Buckwheat -
[Gretchka (Russia), Fagopyrum esculentum]
These tiny three sided pyramidal seeds, about 0.15 inches long, are incorrectly called "kasha" in the U.S. - in Russia "kasha" is any grain cooked to a porridge consistency. Buckwheat was so important to Russians that an early Russian Olympic team, when they found they couldn't get grechnevaya kasha in Paris, packed up and went home.
Buckwheat is sold as "groats", the edible part of the seed after the fibrous hull has been removed. The photo shows roasted groats to the left, the way they're usually sold in the U.S. and unroasted to the right (purchased from a Korean grocery in Los Angeles). Buckwheat is also sold ground into flour, which is mixed with wheat flour to make buckwheat pancakes in the U.S. and soba noodles in Japan. Buckwheat greens are toxic to humans, but sprout enthusiasts do sprout the seeds and eat them at four to five days of growth. Buckwheat is also sprouted and malted to make gluten free beer for those allergic to gluten. Details & Cooking
The somewhat more bitter Tartary Buckwheat Fagopyrum tataricum
is still cultivated as a food crop in the Himalayan region.
Rumex - Sorrels / Docks
Mountain Sorrel -
[Alpine Sorrel; Aveluk (Armenia); Oxyria digyna]
This plant is native to the Arctic tundra, and in mountainous regions farther
south. Sour tasting and high in vitamin C, It has been important to the Inuit
to prevent scurvy. It is also appreciated in Armenia where it is used for
both food and medicinal purposes. The photo specimens are braids of leaves
from Armenia.They are soaked, washed, chopped and cooked for use
in salads or as a vegetable flavoring in bulgur pilafs and the like.
[pie plant, Rheum rhabarbarum and Rheum rhaponticum]
Native to northern Central Asia, rhubarb has a long medicinal history but
use as food did not begin until sugar became affordable in 17th century
England. It is primarily used for pie filling and combined with strawberries
for jam. Only the leaf stems (petioles) are used, the leaves containing so
much oxalic acid they are considered toxic - though you'd probably have to eat
about 10 pounds to kill you. The photo specimen stalks are medium size at
about 16 inches long.
Noble Rhubarb -
[Sikkim rhubarb; Chuka; Rheum nobile]
Native to the Hymalayan region at altitudes of 13,000 to 26,000 feet, this
rhubarb has evolved a unique strategy for success. The flowering stem
is covered by translucent leaves that pass low frequency light but block
damaging high altitude ultraviolet. This both protects the flowering stem
and creates a warm greenhouse effect for development of its fruit. The
mildly acidic hollow stems are eaten by people in the region, and also
contain a lot of drinkable water.
Photo by Bill Baker, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew / Tyger
distributed under license Creative Commons
Attribution ShareAlike v3.0.
Syrian Rhubarb -
[Ribes (Regional languages - variously spelled); Xanjil hagar, Isxun
(Armenian); Isgin, Isgun (Turkey); Yagmi (Syriac); Cukri (Dari);
Currant-fruited Rhubarb, Rhubarb of Babilonia; Rheum ribes]
This wild rhubarb is native to temperate and subtropical Western Asia (Turkey
to Pakistan) in rocky environments between 3300 and 13,000 feet altitude.
The most widely eaten part is the mildly acidic flowering stem. It can be
eaten raw or cooked with eggs or in a stew. The leaves and leaf stems are
also used in salads in some regions. The plant is gathered in the wild and
sold in local markets. The roots are perennial and send up new leaves and
flowering stalks, which can be a little over 3 feet tall. As are all
rhubarbs, this is considered a medicinal plant.
Photo by Maahmaah contributed to the public domain.
[Baygrape; Coccoloba uvifera]
While most used as a landscaping plant in Florida and the Caribbean, this
plant also produces edible fruit in grape like clusters. The green fruits
turn reddish when ripe, are tasty and can be eaten fresh. They are also used
to make jellies and jams, and fermented into wine, which in turn may be
fermented into seagrape vinegar for use in cooking.
Photo by Forest &
Kim Starr distributed under license
Attribution ShareAlike v3.0 attribution required.
Madimak - [Indian Knotgrass; Polygonum cognatum]
Native to Turkey, Georgia, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan this weedy creeping
herb produces relatively large leaves. It is cultivated in Central Anatolia
(Turkey) for use in the cuisine of that region.
American Bistort -
[Western Bistort, Smokeweed, Mountain meadow knotweed;
This plant was an important food item for American Indians in the Mountain
West. The roots can be eaten raw or roasted and have a flavor resembling
chestnuts. The seeds can be ground to make bread or cracked and cooked into
porridge or the like.
Photo by Dawn Endico licensed under Creative Commons
Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.
Japanese Knotweed -
[Itadori (Japan); Fallopia japonica]
Along with the closely related Giant Knotweed (F. sachalinensis).
this plant is most known as an aggressive invasive, though it is favored by
beekeepers for honey production. In Japan, tender shoots and young leaves
are eaten. The shoots look much like asparagus but they require peeling
and special preparation to reduce the oxalic acid. They are also pickled,
using a natural process of sea salt with nigari (magnesium choloride).
Japanese and Giant Knotweed are now getting attention as a major source of
Resveratrol, the anti-aging ingredient in red grape skins. The supplement
industry prefers knotweed because it grows year round and in many climates.
Photo by unknown, contributed to the public domain.
Sorrel and Rhubarb are made tart by oxalic acid, a substance that inhibits absorption of calcium and some other nutrients by the body. In the case of rhubarb, the acid level is so high in the leaves they are not used, only the leaf stems. Oxalic acid can contribute to formation of kidney stones and gout, but is only one of many contributing factors and probably not the strongest. Because these vegetables are generally consumed infrequently and in small quantity the oxalic acid content should not be a problem. The main health problem with rhubarb is that it is usually cooked with lots of sugar, a truly dangerous ingredient.
Buckwheat greens are toxic to humans, causing a number of symptoms including extreme skin sensitivity to sunlight. Sprout enthusiasts do eat buckwheat sprouts at 4 to 5 days and they seem to be OK, at least in modest quantities.