Takane Ruby buckwheat is a brilliant red-flowering superfood from the Himalayas, where blankets of this rare and wondrous pseud-grain can be seen blooming high in the mountains.
In 1987, the late Akio Ujihara, an emeritus professor of agriculture at Shinshu University in Japan, collected seeds for this unique flowering buckwheat from Yunnan, China at an elevation of about 12,000 feet. In a collaboration with the health food division of the Takano Company in Japan, Ujihara selected and perfected this variety in 1993 (one of seven buckwheat varieties the company developed with Shinshu researchers).
Japanese farmers quickly embraced it as a stunning cover crop, much more beautiful than white buckwheat.
The visual effect of the fields is breathtaking, but the flowers themselves are miniature works of art, less than a quarter-inch across. The blossoms form racemes — flower clusters along a central stem, spaced at equal distances. The flowers at the bottom of the cluster develop first.
Farmers generally plant the seeds of red buckwheat varieties such as Takane Ruby Red and Pink Soba buckwheat to bloom between mid-September and mid-October each year.
The fields of bright blooms have become tourist draws in parts of Japan, even inspiring local fairs and festivals. For example, at the Akasobo No Sato — or Red Soba — festival, in the Nagano Prefecture town of Minowa, you can learn to make soba noodles and eat your fill of them, cooked up streetside in big, steaming pots.
Soba is a humble food — made of just buckwheat flour and water — but it is an essential part of traditional Japanese cuisine, or washoku. Emphasizing fresh, seasonal ingredients and careful, artful preparation, washoku (which translates literally as “food of Japan”) is so revered that it is included on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.
Despite its name, buckwheat isn’t really a wheat. Instead, the triangular brown seeds of buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) are more closely related to crops such as sorrel and rhubarb.
Buckwheat varieties such as Takane Ruby are so versatile. The seeds can be sprouted for a highly nutritious microgreen, and in Japan, buckwheat is also brewed into tea and baked into cookies.
Buckwheat is also prized in Japan as a source of nectar, which Takane Ruby produces abundantly through the eight nectar glands in the lower part of the flower stamens.
A Shinsu University analysis of honey from bees that fed on Takane Ruby buckwheat showed it contained 100 times the antioxidant effect of regular honey.
Takane Ruby buckwheat is a low-maintenance cover crop that can thrive in poor soil, but it does best in medium, well-drained soil. The seeds germinate quickly, and Takane Ruby matures in 70 to 90 days. The fine, prolific roots of buckwheat also make it an excellent soil conditioner.
Find Takane Ruby buckwheat seeds here.