Lovers of rare plants and superfood ingredients must learn to grow ruby buckwheat! This rare red-flowering buckwheat comes from a high elevation of 12,000 feet in the Himalayan mountains, where indigenous Chinese people have grown it for centuries. It has become widely popularized in Japan and available in the U.S. thanks to rare seed importers.
This dazzlingly beautiful crop offers nutrient-dense seeds and microgreens. The honey from bees who forage on its vibrant flowers is said to be 100 times more antioxidant-rich than regular honey.
Even if you don’t plan to eat it, this plant is insanely easy to grow and blooms very quickly, often just six weeks after sowing! It makes an incredible ornamental flower, cover crop, or pollinator patch. Once established, it requires very little water and self-sows for another butterfly-magnetizing display next summer. Let’s explore how to cultivate this vibrant annual!
History and Cultivation
Buckwheat is one of the most ancient grains, with cultivation dating back over 8,000 years. Traditionally, buckwheat is known for its white flowers. Still, in the late 1980s, a Japanese university professor named Akio Ujihara first collected the seeds of a vibrant pink buckwheat while visiting Yunnan, China. He noticed blankets of pink and red covering the high Himalayan mountains at around 12,000 feet elevation.
The variety was named ‘Takane Ruby’ and nicknamed “ruby red.” It became wildly popular in Japan, eventually gaining international attention in rare seed collections and foodie communities. Cultivation is similar to most other types of buckwheat, requiring warm weather and well-drained soil.
What is Ruby Red Buckwheat?
Native to high-elevation regions of Yunnan, China, ruby red buckwheat is a rare Himalayan variety.
Ruby red buckwheat is a rare Himalayan buckwheat with vibrant pinkish-red flowers native to high-elevation areas of Yunnan, China. The warm-weather annual is grown for its nutrient-dense seeds, microgreens, and nectar resources for pollinators. It attracts many butterflies and bees while nourishing the soil with its deep taproots.
The low-maintenance plant is multifunctional and can be grown as a cover crop, cut flower, pollinator patch, or food crop. Honey harvested from bees who feed on buckwheat nectar is exceptionally flavorful and rich in antioxidants.
Is it Gluten-Free?
This is a gluten-free ancient grain, unrelated to wheat and lacking gluten.
Despite its misleading name, buckwheat is a gluten-free ancient grain. The plant is unrelated to wheat and does not contain the protein gluten. Sometimes called a “pseudo-grain,” both the seeds (“groats”) and microgreens of buckwheat are easy to digest, providing healthy insoluble fiber and high levels of antioxidants (especially the ‘Takane Ruby’ red-seeded variety).
In Japan, the vibrantly colored seeds are ground into buckwheat flour to make soba noodles. In Russia and Ukraine, buckwheat is a staple food used much like rice. Buckwheat is used in stir-fries and noodle dishes. It can also be prepared similarly to oats or risotto or substituted for buckwheat in any recipe, adding a bright red or pink color.
You can grow this buckwheat easily from seed, assuming you can get the rare imported seeds. Once you start growing this beautiful crop, you may want to save your own seeds for future enjoyment.
When planting buckwheat, wait for stable temperatures above 45°F as it’s sensitive to frost.
Once the weather has thoroughly settled and temperatures are reliably above 45°F, it’s time to sow buckwheat. This frost-tender crop cannot handle chilly weather. It germinates best in soils 70°F or warmer.
Northern gardeners may start the seeds in cell trays indoors, but it is unnecessary if you are growing it as a cover crop. Thanks to its rapid growth, it flowers within just 6-8 weeks of seeding and produces mature grain in 70-90 days. Even gardeners with ultra-short seasons can enjoy this quick-maturing crop!
To grow this vibrant buckwheat from seed:
- Weed and rake a clean seedbed in late spring or early summer.
- If the soil is heavily compacted or high in clay, loosen it with a broad fork and incorporate compost.
- Sparsely broadcast (sprinkle) seeds over the soil, leaving about 6” between each plant.
- Alternatively, you can seed buckwheat in rows 6” apart with 6” between plants.
- Very lightly dust soil over the top of the seeds so they are buried approximately ¼” deep.
- Thoroughly moisten, and don’t let seeds dry out for the first two weeks.
- Buckwheat typically sprouts in 7-12 days.
- Provide consistent water until about 5” tall when taproots have established.
If sowing indoors, note that seedlings are prone to damping off disease if you overwater or lack airflow. Properly thin to one plant per cell and transplant before plants get too large, as described below.
Saving these seeds can be cost-effective and allows experimentation in the kitchen.
Rare seeds can get expensive because the seed packets are so small, and the amount of producers growing the varieties is fairly limited. If you fall in love with this plant (how could you not?), saving your own seed is a practical and economical way to ensure a continuous supply. The process is super easy and also allows you to experiment with the grain in your kitchen. However, dehulling the buckwheat for eating requires a special process.
Buckwheat seed tends to mature at different rates because the blooms appear over a period of time rather than all at once. Take note: the plants will self-sow and grow another patch the following year. If you don’t want them to drop seeds in place, harvest the plants when about 75% of the seeds are reddish-brown.
To save buckwheat seeds:
- Wait until 60-75% of seed heads mature to brownish-red in early fall.
- Cut the stems off at ground level and leave the roots in place to nourish the soil.
- Cut off the seed tops and place them in large open paper bags or on screens.
- Let the seed heads dry.
- Once dry, hold the seed heads over buckets while you rub them between your hands.
- This should loosen the seeds from the chaff (excess debris).
- Grab another bucket and pour the seeds back and forth several times while a light breeze or fan blows the chaff away.
- Save seeds in an airtight bag or container to plant next year.
You can grow it as a directly sown cover crop or start it indoors and transplant it outside if you are concerned about late frosts or inconsistent weather. After all, these rare seeds are precious, and you want to ensure your first stand is a success.
How to Transplant
Plant seeds indoors in late spring.
Ruby buckwheat seeds can be sown indoors in late spring and should only be kept in their pots until they are 4-5” tall. If the buckwheat gets too large in a container, its taproot may not be able to withstand the transplanting process.
Move your containers onto a protected patio or porch to harden off for a few days. The plants cannot handle cold weather under 45°F, but they may need to acclimate to slightly cooler nights than they had on your windowsill or in the greenhouse.
For each buckwheat seedling, use a hori hori knife or trowel to dig a hole about 1.5 times deeper and wider than the rootball. Gently hold the plant from its base and shimmy its roots out of the container. Place in the hole and backfill, then thoroughly water in. Avoid burying buckwheat too deep. The soil level should be the same as it was in the cell.
Provide approximately 6 inches of space between each plant to create a blanket of color.
For cover cropping or ornamental “pink blanket” vibes, ‘Takane Ruby’ does best with about 6” between each plant. For cut flowers, widen the spacing to 12-18” to encourage more branched, bushy plants.
How to Grow
Growing this gorgeous flower and cover crop is very straightforward. As long as it has warm weather and ample sunlight, it will reward you with a striking pink show throughout the summer.
Ideal growth requires 6-12 hours of daily sunlight.
This Himalayan-native can grow in partial to full sun areas with 6-12 hours of sunlight daily. Plants tend to flower the most in bright sunlight but enjoy afternoon shade in ultra-hot areas.
Don’t plant buckwheat in a spot where it can get shaded out by structures, shrubs, trees, or tall garden crops. Plants grown in too much shade may become leggy and fail to produce the signature flowers.
To ensure buckwheat plants thrive during their early growth stage, maintain a steady moisture level.
Consistent moisture is important during the first 1-2 weeks while buckwheat gets established. Once the taproots anchor in and the plants reach about 6” tall, you can cut back on irrigation, only watering during the most intense dry periods.
Ruby buckwheat is drought-tolerant and excels at reaching deep in the soil for water reserves. This is great for improving soil structure and drainage.
Perfect growing conditions involve well-drained, sandy loam.
Well-drained sandy loam is ideal for this rare buckwheat, but it can tolerate a range of conditions as long as it isn’t exposed to heavy clay or extreme compaction. If you want to use it to improve your garden soil, give it a nice fluff with a broad fork or digging fork before planting.
This cover crop is great at loosening lower soil layers if it has enough organic matter and aeration to get established. A nice heap of compost is appreciated. Just be sure the compost isn’t too filled with nitrogen-rich manure.
Climate and Temperature
Buckwheat thrives in temperatures between 50-80°F, being sensitive to both frost and high heat.
Buckwheat is a warm-weather crop that enjoys temperatures from 50-80°F. It can technically tolerate around 40°F but certainly will not handle any frost. The plants are also a bit wimpy in high heat and should be grown in partial shade in hot climates.
They generally don’t need fertilizer except in impoverished sandy soils.
Fertilizer isn’t usually necessary for buckwheat unless you’re growing in very poor sandy soils. A small amount of balanced slow-release fertilizer can be useful if it isn’t too high in nitrogen. Like many flowering plants, excessive nitrogen can cause the plant to grow an abundance of foliage at the expense of the desirable blooms.
Maintaining red buckwheat requires minimal care but demands termination before seed maturity for controlled growth.
This low-maintenance crop requires little more than an occasional watering and care at harvest. If used as a cover crop, you want to be sure to terminate it before the seeds mature. Otherwise, your veggie beds will have another big patch of red buckwheat. The best way to terminate is with a mower or loppers to cut the plants off at the base, leaving the roots intact to nourish the soil.
If you want to establish an ongoing buckwheat patch, let the plants mature and self-sow. This is a great option for anyone establishing pollinator patches or cottage gardens where things can grow more wild.
Don’t confuse Ruby red buckwheat with the native red-flowered buckwheat (Eriogonum grande var. rubescens), a wild herb in California. Growers typically plant these buckwheat cultivars for food and ornamental value. However, they are all in the Polygonaceae (knotweed) family.
‘Takane Red’ entices beneficial insects with its vibrant pink-to-red blooms.
Ruby red buckwheat is the original variety from the Himalayan mountains in China. Its blooms are strikingly pink to red and extremely appealing to beneficial insects.
‘Rose Red Soba’
This buckwheat variety is perennial in warm climates.
Takano Seed Co. and Professor Ujihara developed this closely related variety of red buckwheat from the original ‘Takane Red’ strain. Their goal was to further adapt the buckwheat to a Japanese climate. This cultivar is perennial in warmer climates. It has the same vibrant pink flowers.
Good Plant Pairings
You can grow buckwheat alongside many plants in your garden for an ornamental aesthetic and insectary habitat.
In vegetable gardens, the use of ruby buckwheat helps draw beneficial insects.
Buckwheat is a phenomenal companion plant for vegetables of all types. It makes a great soil-improving cover crop in your veggie beds and adds a phenomenal pollinator habitat. Most notably, you can grow red buckwheat along the margins of your veggie beds to attract beneficial insects.
Hoverflies and parasitic wasps cannot get enough of its nectar-rich flowers. These natural predators can aid in pest control throughout your garden.
Ruby buckwheat’s pink flowers complement yellow marigolds.
The dark pink cloud of ruby buckwheat flowers makes a beautiful backdrop to bright yellow marigold flowers, which thrive in similar soil and sunlight conditions.
Ruby buckwheat and phacelia create a vibrant, irresistible pollinator haven with stunning blossoms.
For the ultimate pollinator patch, phacelia and ruby buckwheat will lure nearly every bee and butterfly to your garden. The contrast of fluffy bluish-purple curled phacelia blossoms and the delicate pinkish-red buckwheat flowers is as beautiful as it is functional. If you raise honeybees, this combo is a must!
Pests and Diseases
The plant’s rarity and resilience keep it pest and disease-free.
Finally, a plant without any pest or disease issues! Thanks to its rarity and resilience, ruby buckwheat has no reported issues with bugs or pathogens.
Ruby buckwheat is a versatile plant used for gluten-free grains in traditional cuisines.
Ruby buckwheat is traditionally grown for its gluten-free “pseudo-grains” that are ground into flour for noodles and stir-fries. The dehulling process requires special equipment and processing in a home kitchen, but it is certainly doable if you want a fun DIY project.
In the states, most gardeners grow this pretty flower as a cover crop or pollinator habitat. It is also becoming popular in bouquets.
Frequently Asked Questions
This pink-flowered Himalayan buckwheat averages 2 to 3 feet tall. Denser plantings may cause longer, thinner plants, while wider spacing encourages more bushy growth.
Buckwheat is a warm-weather, self-sowing annual, which means it will not overwinter in frosty areas, but it generally self-seeds if you don’t terminate the flowering crop. Buckwheat can become weedy in vegetable beds if you don’t cut it back before the seeds mature and drop.
Buckwheat is less common than other grains and, therefore, more expensive. Ruby buckwheat is particularly rare, and there are not many producers growing it in the United States.
Ruby buckwheat readily reseeds if you leave the seedheads to mature. It is unlikely to become invasive but can be prolific. If you don’t want it to reseed, cut back the plants at ground level in early fall before the seedheads mature.
This easygoing flower provides incredible garden benefits with little worries. Below ground, its taproots improve the soil structure, while above ground, its flowers nurture pollinators and attract beneficial predatory insects. Best of all, ruby buckwheat is dazzlingly beautiful, yielding a fluffy cloud of pink flowers to enjoy all summer. Remember to delay plantings until after your last frost date and provide well-drained soil.