Asian cultures have been sleeping on buckwheat pillows for hundreds of years, but it wasn't until the 1980s that western cultures began to appreciate the benefits of these pillows.
Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) is commonly mistaken for a grain, but it is actually a fruit. It is related to the rhubarb family. Buckwheat pillows are stuffed with hulls of the fruit, the husks that protect the kernels. These hulls are roasted to remove dust from the growing fields before before being placed into the pillowslips.
These hulls are a natural, inexpensive and renewable resource, unlike the petroleum-based foam used in many pillows. In addition to environmental bonuses, buckwheat pillows provide excellent support for the head, neck and back because the filling contours to the weight and shape of the body during sleep. The pillows also provide natural air circulation between individual hulls, resulting in ideal temperatures for peaceful sleeping.
Buckwheat pillows have become a staple cushion for yoga students, but they are found mainstream as well. Some of the swankiest hotels worldwide have begun offering them to their guests as an alternative because of their increased popularity.
Many manufacturers have expanded their lines to provide options in addition to the standard bed pillow. Buckwheat pillows are available in full-body sizes similar to a futon. They are also offered as keyboard wrist rests, eye pillows, travel pillows, and neck-rolls. There are even tubular pillows with straps, used for lumbar support while driving, working, or sitting at a desk. Some manufacturers have taken to adding herbs, such as lavender and chamomile, to the hulls to add a touch of aromatherapy.
Many healthcare professionals have started recommending a buckwheat pillow to patients suffering from such conditions as migraines, snoring, insomnia and menopausal night sweats.
Some people are allergic to the filling in these pillows, but this is usually a result of dust-covered hulls. To eliminate that possibility, consumers should buy only top quality pillows produced by manufacturers that roast the hulls. Many cheaper pillows are filled with hulls that have been vacuumed, not roasted, which could leave dust residue that might trigger an allergy.
A good quality buckwheat pillow can last for 7-10 years with proper care. The outside cotton cover should be washed regularly, but the pillow itself should not be washed. Instead, it should be set in direct sunlight for a few hours once every two months or so.