Buckwheat is an annual grown for its seeds and as a green manure. In France buckwheat is called sarrasin or blé noir. It is not a wheat at all, not even related and so is gluten free. However recently it has emerged that some people can have a severe allergic reaction to buckwheat and go into anaphyllactic shock.
The plant is native to Sichuan in China, where it was domesticated. It arrived in France in the 14th century. The leaves are heart-shaped and the flowers pale pink. The seeds are highly nutritious and rich in protein.
Buckwheat grown as a cover crop between Le Petit Pressigny and Le Grand Pressigny
Once widely cultivated on poor soils in France, especially in areas like the Auvergne and Brittany, it had almost disappeared as a crop. But now it is staging a modest comeback.
It's sown from May to July (or even August if it is an inter-crop cover), to avoid frost and is harvested from mid-September to mid-October. It's not an easy crop to harvest for seed as they don't all mature at the same time. A lot of seed is lost as a result. In the 19th century 700 000 ha were under buckwheat in France annually. The soil it grew in was deficient in copper, making it impossible to grow anything else except rye. By the mid-1960s and the widespread use of artificial fertilizers to make up the deficits of trace elements, buckwheat and rye had been replaced with the more profitable wheat, barley and maize. Currently there is about 30 000 ha planted with buckwheat annually. It has become popular with those practicing sustainable agriculture as when used as a cover crop, especially between main crops, it can function to replace phosphorus in the soil. Despite being in the top ten buckwheat producers France is a net importer of the grain. The price per tonne is around €470.
Buckwheat honey from a local apiarist.