A Guide to Broadleaf Grains

Longtime Maine farmer and homesteader Will Bonsall shares his knowledge and experience with various broadleaf grains.

  • Buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth are considered by agronomists to be "pseudo-grains", grains that are not in the grass family.
    Photo by Nito/Fotolia
  • In "Will Bonsall's Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening", Will Bonsall employs a unique clarity of vision that extends all the way from the finer points of soil fertility and seed saving to exploring how we can transform civilization and make our world a better, more resilient place.
    Photo courtesy Chelsea Green Publishing

In Will Bonsall's Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015), author Will Bonsall maintains that to achieve real wealth we first need to understand the economy of the land, to realize that things that might make sense economically don't always make sense ecologically, and vice versa. The marketplace distorts our values, and our modern dependence on petroleum in particular presents a serious barrier to creating a truly sustainable agriculture. Bonsall draws upon the fertility of on-farm plant materials: compost, green manures, perennial grasses, and forest products like leaves and ramial wood chips. And he grows and harvests a diversity of crops from both cultivated and perennial plants: vegetables, grains, pulses, oilseeds, fruits and nuts ― even uncommon but useful permaculture plants like groundnut. In a friendly, almost conversational way, Bonsall imparts a wealth of knowledge drawn from his more than forty years of farming experience.

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: Will Bonsall's Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening.

Broadleaf Grains

There are a few grains, notably buckwheat, amaranth, and quinoa, that agronomists classify as pseudo-grains. This seems annoyingly dismissive to me; of course they are grains, we call them grains, we prepare and use them as grains. What scientists mean is that these grains are not grasses; they do not belong to the family Poaceae. Well, quack grass is a member of the Poaceae, and so is bamboo, but who calls those grains? Still, there is an important distinction: The genuine honest-to-goodness, right-out-front dyed-in-the-wool card-carrying real-McCoy grains (which I’ll henceforth call “grassy grains” for clarity) are all monocots, which have a very different worldview from the fake, fraudulent, bogus, ersatz, sham pseudo-grains, which I’ll henceforth refer to as “broadleaf grains.”

All the grassy grains make their new growth from the base of the plant. That new growth emerges directly from the crown, whereas the broadleaf grains just keep adding new growth onto older growth. Consequently if you, or a grazing animal, snip off the top of a wheat plant, it will just keep growing, as in a lawn; do that to a field of buckwheat and it will stop dead, as in a parking lot, or at most branch out and grow bushy.

And then there’s the ability of grassy grains to “eat the rocks” and convert the dissolved silica into a protective coating. It’s a trick that most dicots aren’t so good at; they rely more on taking up the already soluble silica in the soil humus. Moreover grazing animals then use that soluble silica to make their otherwise chalky teeth strong and sharp so they can chomp at that grass; it doesn’t seem quite fair.

One of the helpful things about the broadleaf grains is that they lack gluten, which apparently is strictly a grass thing (and not all of those). By “helpful,” I mean of course to people who are gluten-sensitive, like celiacs; to the rest of us it’s a flaw, in that we cannot make bread from them. But isn’t that seeing the glass half empty? I mean, might as well say that wheat is flawed because it’s too sticky to make a nice light cereal like kasha.

Live The Good Life with GRIT!

Grit JulAug 2016At GRIT, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to GRIT through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of GRIT for only $16.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of GRIT for just $22.95!

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters