Today I am inspired to write about the members of the large Sedge and Rush family or Cyperaceae. I recently helped my friend Sally harvesting many stems of the Common Club-rush or Schoenoplectus lacustris in order for her to make many beautiful items after they have dried in about 6 weeks time!
This is an important native plant which can be used to weave mats, baskets or any other implements as you can find out more on the next page and it even got edible and medicinal uses!
It is one of those plants which could feature in a real Ethnobotanical Garden instead of this virtual one to demonstrate all its uses it had in the past but could certainly be again in the future! Below some of the pictures taken by my friend on our recent adventure harvesting the Common Club-rush.
Most information is from specialist websites for which I provide the links for you to find more information and pictures of the plants. I use colour coding for easy reading! Blue background is general interesting info (although I hope you find it all interesting!!). Green is about all the uses except for medicinal uses or if there is a warning in which case I use a pink background. Pictures by Matt Summers or Mike Poulton unless stated.
The Common Club-rush is one of the members of the large Sedge family or Cyperaceae which is number 176 in Stace. It is before the Grass family (177) and after the Juncaceae (175) or real Rush family, which is another family to write about in next post!
These are all very ‘grass-like’ plants but with their own anatomy and flower structures. It is a specialist subject all together to get to know these monocot families as the individual flowers and structures are so much more delicate then those of the flowering plants! They are all fascinating and beautiful of course and you can learn a little about how to identify these by getting specialist books:
- Grasses, Sedges, Rushes: An Identification Guide. Apparently this little book also writes about all their uses!
- Collins Pocket Guide of Grasses, Sedges, Rushes & Ferns with simple to use keys and distribution maps and good illustrations. I can recommend this. I originally bought it for just under £15.
- Start to identify Sedges and Rushes by NHBS
- Sedges of the British Isles by NHBS or for some basic knowledge:
- NATURESPOT: Grasses, Rushes & Sedges a picture gallery
- Introduction to Sedges by Lizzie Harper
First a little about the entire family and a list of the different genera & species which are native and useful in one form or another to us people.
has 4 native species.
Paper and the wicks of candles have been made of its fiber, and pillows stuffed with the same material.
The leaves were formerly used in treating diarrhea, and the spongy pith of the stem for the removal of tapeworm.
Young stem bases – raw or cooked. Usually cooked and eaten with oil. Root – raw or cooked. The blackish covering should be removed.
Has 3 native species but no known uses.
Scirpus sylvaticus or Wood Club-rush
Schoenoplectus or Club-rushes
has 4 native species which are all useful:
This is the plant we harvested this morning and are growing abundantly in the canals near Walsall!
The stems are used in weaving and basket making. They are used to make good quality mats for use on the floor, for sleeping on and for making temporary partitions.
The roots are astringent and diuretic. They were formerly employed medicinally but have fallen into disuse. This plant is a traditional medicine for cancer.
Root – raw or cooked. Rich in starch, it can be dried and ground into a powder or made into a syrup. The buds at the end of the rhizomes are crisp and sweet, making excellent eating raw. Young shoots – raw or cooked. Used in spring. Seed – ground up into a powder and mixed with flour for use in making cakes etc. The seed is small and rather fiddly to harvest and utilize. Base of mature stems – raw or cooked. Somewhat tough. Pollen – raw or cooked. Rich in pollen, it is mixed with flour and used in making cakes etc.
The new shoots and young roots may be eaten raw or cooked. The older roots can be made into flour.
The root is astringent and diuretic. The stem pith is haemostatic. A poultice of the stem pith has been placed under a dressing in order to stop wounds bleeding.
Root – raw or cooked. Rich in starch. The root contains a small amount of starch. The sweet roots are eaten raw in mid summer. The bruised young roots, when boiled in water, furnish a sweet syrup. The rhizomes are 3 – 10mm in diameter. Young shoots – cooked. The tender base of the stem is eaten raw in salads. The pollen is used in soups or mixed with flour and used in making bread. It is rich in protein. Seed. No further details are given but it is probably ground into a powder and used in making bread etc. The seed is small and rather fiddly to harvest and utilize.
The stems are used in weaving and basket making. They are used to make good quality mats for use on the floor, for sleeping on and for making temporary partitions. The stems are pulled off the plant rather than cut to ensure the maximum length of stem.
Eleocharis or Spike-rushes
Has 7 native species but no known uses for those.
One of the best known species is the Chinese water chestnut, Eleocharis dulcis. These plants bear tubers on their rhizomes which may be peeled and eaten raw or boiled. In Australia, magpie geese rely almost exclusively on these tubers for sustenance for a significant portion of the year.
Isolepis or Club-rushes
Cyperus or Galingales
Has 2 native species and 1 introduced + naturalized.
This has about 700 species worldwide with several of them having uses according to Wikipedia.
C. esculentus or Tiger Nut is one of the oldest cultivated plants in prehistoric and Ancient Egypt and can sometimes be found as a novelty. It is cultivated for its edible tubers, called earth almonds or tiger nuts, as a snack food and for the preparation of horchata de chufa, a sweet, milk-like beverage.
Cyperus fuscus is one of 101 species named as a priority for conservation by the conservation charity Plantlife.
Blysmus or Flat-sedges
Schoenus or Bog-rushes
This can be up to 2.5 metres (8 ft 2 in) tall, and has leaves with hard serrated edges. In the past, it was an important material to build thatched roofs; harvesting it was an arduous task due to its sharp edges that can cause deep lacerations.
Rhynchospora or Beak-sedges
R. alba is used as an ornamental in the UK.
Carex or Sedges
The genus has more than 2000 species worldwide and on the British Isles there are 78 known species according to Stace divided into 3 subgenera to aid identification. In the Birmingham and Black Country Flora there are 37 listed.
I will just mention a few more common and distinct Sedges as it is just too many for my post!
C. arenaria or Sand Sedge is mentioned by J. Barker in the Medicinal Flora as a useful species. This is a creeping plant and therefore can be used like Marram Grass (Ammophila arenaria) to bind dunes and stop them drifting.
Like most grasses and sedges it has a high content of silica making it unpalatable to grazing animals.
While silica has potential therapeutic value in pulmonary and vascular complaints it has not been studied. The rhizome however has a place in folk medicine as an alterative.
Bronchitis & bronchial catarrh. Rheumatic pain. Leclere suggests that it may be useful for gout. Its rputation as a deparative would suggest a beneficial action when taken for skin in poor condition.
The straw is used for bedding.
It is cultivated by plant nurseries as an ornamental plant, planted for accent or as a groundcover in gardens and public landscapes. It is also used in drought tolerant landscaping and erosion control plantings. It grows in sun to part shade settings.
As the seeds of C. pilulifera ripen, the culms bend, and can eventually touch the ground. The seeds are then dispersed by ants, particularly Myrmica ruginodis, in a process known as myrmecochory, and are eaten by other insects, such as the ground beetle Harpalus fuliginosus.
This is a large sedge to finish off with! It is frequently growing in the gardens I look after. It is mostly not welcome though as it is a very enthusiastic and seeds about in the Walsall clay soil! In nature it occurs in woodland, scrubland, hedges and beside streams, preferring damp, heavy clay soils. It is sometimes grown as a garden plant because of its distinctive appearance.
To finish of a gallery of pictures showing the diversity of several sedges, taken in Birmingham & Black Country area by M. Poulton.