Live Rhubarb Plants Buckwheat & Sorrel


The Buckwheat family (Polygonaceae) provides only a few species used for food, but one of them, buckwheat itself, has been of great importance to human survival since prehistoric times. Great hardship was caused in Russia when Soviet central planning decided to shift farming from traditional crops like buckwheat to "modern" crops like wheat. Buckwheat grows well on marginal land in cold climates, wheat does not.


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Common Buckwheat   -   [Gretchka (Russia), Fagopyrum esculentum]
Buckwheat seeds

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
This genus contains some 200 species, most of which are edible, but only a few are actually much eaten. Some are used medicinally.


Sorrel / Dock   -   [Spinach dock; Shchavel (Russia, Ukraine); Rugstyne (Lithuania); Macris, Stevie (Rumania); Szczaw (Poland); Azeda (Portugal); Kuzu Kulagi (Turkish); Rau Chua (Viet-American); Ambada Bhaji, Gongoora (India), Rumex acetosa]
Live Sorrel Plants

Sorrel grows wild over much of Europe and is a common crop there. Despite being called for by many recipes, it is of very limited availability here in Southern California, probably because it is so perishable. Sorrel's taste is almost exactly that of the unrelated Wood Sorrel. As with spinach, sorrel's tartness is provided by oxalic acid.   Details and Cooking.   Photo by Burschik distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike v3.0.

Note that Rumex is a large genus and there are other Sorrels / Docks that are used to a lesser extent for culinary purposes. Among these are:
Sheep's Sorrel - R. acetosella - garnish and salad green.
Curly Dock - R. crispus - salad green.
Broadleaf Dock, Butter Dock - R. obtusifolius - formerly used to wrap and preserver farmhouse butter.
Patience Dock, Garden Patience - R. patientia - Spring leaf vegetable in Southeastern Europe.
French Sorrel - R. scutatus - used as a culinary herb.


Mountain Sorrel   -   [Alpine Sorrel; Aveluk (Armenia); Oxyria digyna]
Braids of Mountain Sorrel Leaves

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.

Rhubarb   -   [pie plant, Rheum rhabarbarum and Rheum rhaponticum]
Rhubarb Stems

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]
Growing Noble Rhubarb Plant

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]
Growing Syrian Rhubarb Plants

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.

Seagrape   -   [Baygrape; Coccoloba uvifera]
Seagrape Leaves and Fruit

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 Creative Commons 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; Polygonum bistortoides]
American Bistort Flower Heads

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]
Japanese Knotweed Leaves and Stems

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.

Health & Nutrition

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.

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©Andrew Grygus - agryg@clovegarden.com - Photos on this page not otherwise credited are © cg1 - Linking to and non-commercial use of this page permitted