Plant Profile: Wheat

Wheat (Triticum aestivum) syn. Bread wheat

Family: Poaceae or Gramineae

First mention in Jefferson’s Garden Book appears on March 23, 1774

Wheat (Triticum aestivum). Image from the Icones et descriptiones Graminum austriacorum, by Nikolaus Thomas Host, A. Schmidt, and J. Ibmayer (1801-1809). http://www.illustratedgarden.org

Wheat is an annual that grows to 5 feet tall. It blooms from June to July and the seeds mature from August to September. Wheat is a self-pollinator that is cultivated worldwide; it is the second main human food crop and the second largest production crop after maize.

Wheat is used in a wide variety of foods. Most commonly, we see it on our breakfast table in breads and cereals. Wheat has more nutritional value than rice or maize. For this reason, wheat is the world’s most favored staple food: it provides more nourishment for humans than any other food source.

Wheat has a very long history. In southwestern Asia, historical evidence shows that people ate wheat as early as 10,000 BC. In this time period, people did not grow wheat; instead they picked and gathered wild wheat. It was not until later that people came together and started to farm. It was important to farm because there was not enough food to go around just by picking wild wheat.  Archaeological evidence for early wheat cultivation can be seen in Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, the Levant, Israel, Egypt and Ethiopia. It was mostly farmed in the Fertile Crescent and the Nile Delta.

Medicinal Uses:

Wheat is used in the treatment of malaise, sore throat, cough, thirst, abdominal coldness and spasmodic pain, and constipation. Different parts of wheat can be used in several ways:

  • The young stems are used to treat biliousness and intoxication
  • Ash is used to remove skin blemishes
  • Light grains are used to treat night sweats
  • Seeds are used to treat malaise, sore throat, thirst, and abdominal coldness

Other Uses:

Wheat is used in many different things. Wheat is a great source of carbohydrates. Wheat contains valuable protein, minerals, and great vitamins. Wheat is a major ingredient in most breads, rolls, cookies, crackers, biscuits, cakes, pancakes, noodles, ice cream cones, macaroni, pizza, waffles, spaghetti, pudding, muffins, and many prepared hot and cold breakfast foods. Also, wheat is used for livestock and poultry feed, and its straw is a biomass that can be used for fuel.

Sources Consulted:

Jefferson, Thomas and Edwin Morris Betts. 1944. Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book, 1766-1824, with Relevant Extracts From His Other Writings. Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society.

Jefferson, Thomas and Robert C. Baron. 1987. The Garden And Farm Books Of Thomas Jefferson. Golden Colorado: Fulcrum.

Plants for a Future. “Triticum aestivum.”  2010. Accessed 14 Mar. 2012.  <http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Triticum+aestivum>

Rare Books from the MBG Library.  “Wheat.” 2010. Accessed 14 Mar. 2012 <http://www.illustratedgarden.org/mobot/rarebooks/page.asp?relation=QK495F19H671801V3&identifier=0123>

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