Proso millet (Panicum miliaceum) is also known as common millet, hog millet or white millet. Both the wild ancestor and the location of domestication of proso millet are unknown, but it first appears as a crop in both Transcaucasia and China about 7,000 years ago, suggesting that it may have been domesticated independently in each area. It is still extensively cultivated in India, Russia, Ukraine, the Middle East, Turkey and Romania. In the United States, proso is mainly grown for birdseed. It is sold as health food and due to its lack of gluten it can be included in the diets of people who cannot tolerate wheat.
Proso is well adapted to many soil and climatic conditions; it has a short growing season, and needs little water. The water requirement of proso is probably the lowest of any major cereal. It is an excellent crop for dryland and no-till farming. Proso millet is an annual grass whose plants reach an average height of 100 cm (4 feet.) The seedheads grow in bunches. The seeds are small (2-3 mm or .1 inch or so) and can be cream, yellow, orange-red, or brown in colour.
Proso is an annual grass like all other millets, but it is not closely related to pearl millet, foxtail millet, finger millet, or the barnyard millets.
History and domestication
Unlike the foxtail millet, the wild ancestor of the proso millet has not yet been satisfactorily identified. Weedy forms of this grain are found in central Asia, covering a widespread area from the Caspian Sea east to Xinjiang and Mongolia, and it may be that these semi-arid areas may harbor "genuinely wild miliaceum forms." This millet has been reportedly found in Neolithic sites in Georgia (dated to the fifth and fourth millennia BC), as well as excavated Yangshao culture farming villages east in China. Proso millet appears to have reached Europe not long after its appearance in Georgia, first appearing in east and central Europe; however, the grain needed a few thousand more years to cross into Italy, Greece, and Iran, and the earliest evidence for its cultivation in the Near East is a find in the ruins of Nimrud, Iraq dated to about 700 BC.
While Proso millet is not a member of the Neolithic Near East crop assemblage, it arrived in Europe no later than the time these introductions did, and that proso millet is an independent domestication that could predate the arrival of the Near East grain crops.
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