If you already know about purple nutsedge you’re probably not a fan, simply because it’s been named the “most costly weed in the world” – this, by the way, is not meant to be a flattering distinction. There is so much more to this weed and as it turns out, purple nutsedge has been intimately linked to humans for literally thousands of years.
The reason I’m so impressed with this is partly because the plant itself is kind of awesome. It’s been found on every continent, thrives in poor soil or fertile soil and is the bane of sugarcane, cotton and soybean farmers everywhere. It’s a little bit unstoppable and is resistant to most chemical herbicides. The most important point for me about purple nutsedge, or nutgrass is that it is useful to humans in every way it’s possible for a plant to be useful. Instead of trying to burn this out of our fields we should embrace it for the myriad benefits it can provide (not that corporate farming cares at all about the myriad benefits of this “weed”)
Purple Nutsedge In Caveman’s Teeth
I know that sounds hilarious, but no joke. Someone took the time to analyze paleolithic era dental plaque, which actually showed that not only did paleo people have a deep and detailed knowledge of plant life pre-agriculture, they also relied heavily on plants for nutrition. Not only that but there is evidence that they roasted and boiled the tubers, which kind of makes me love my ancient ancestors even more. If you want to read more about how this was deduced click here for the research or here for my blog post on Primal Docs. This plant has been interwoven in our ancestry and evolution for thousands of years (these plaque samples were taken from fossils dated between 17,000 and 15,000 BCE), so we are probably pretty intimate allies. The important part here though, is how you can also enjoy the benefits of this awesome weed.
What You Can Do With Purple Nutsedge
If you want to be like your caveman ancestors, or follow a caveman diet then this might be a good place to start! Nutsedge or nutgrass has bulb-like tubers that form out of the roots that grow laterally, helping to spread the plant. The tubers are shown in the picture below. Also the plant is easy to recognize because it has a triangular stem, so if you cut a slice of the stem it’s shaped like a triangle.
This amazing plant is used for:
- Food – the tuber is bitter, but packed with trace minerals, nutrients and especially the essential amino acid lysine, which is antiviral against the herpes family and essential for many bodily functions. The evidence suggests the tuber could be boiled, lightly heated on open fire or roasted. The tuber is white and juicy when young and black and fibrous when old. Older tubers may require chewing and then spitting out the fibers that you can’t chew through (who wants glamor when you’re back yard foraging anyway)
- Medicine: (Traditional Chinese Medicine Uses)– This plant is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a potent qi tonic (that means it makes pretty much everyone feel better) called xiang fu. The tuber is harvested in autumn (look for the harder black ones), steamed for a short time then sliced lengthwise and dried in the sun. These dried strips can then be made into a tea that helps resolve grief and depressing which appears as depression with excessive sighing. The tea also helps regulate women’s menstrual cycles, resolve stomach pain from anger and generally open and regulate the emotions. Isn’t it fascinating that a plant with so much power to help depression is growing unstoppably everywhere in a time when depression and sadness are rampant within society? I *love* the divine mystery.
- Medicine: Ayurvedic Medicinal Uses – Ayurveda is the ancient system of medicine in India and they also consider this plant to be of utmost importance. Purple nutgrass, called Motha or Mutha, is used to stimulate appetite, to soothe the stomach, to kill digestive parasites and also to ease joint pain. In fact the essential oil is highly anti-inflammatory and is both a sedative and pain killer. For more technical details look here.
- Medicine: Modern Research – This miraculous tuber has been found to be antibacterial, antioxidant, antimalarial and anti-diabetic. That’s pretty hard to beat from any plant.
- Essential Oil – An essential oil can be harvested from the tubers that smells peppery and spicy and is used extensively in the perfume industry. It’s also a potent pain killer.
- For Your Teeth – The antibacterial properties of this tuber also explain the shocking lack of cavities in the paleolithic fossils that have been discovered. Eating the tuber kills the bacteria Streptococcus mutans, which contributes to tooth decay, so paleo teeth were protected by purple nut sedge in their diet.
- For Weaving – If all the rest of it wasn’t enough, the grass is sturdy and can be woven into mats, baskets and rope if you’ve got some time on your hands.
So – maybe you’re not as excited as I am about caveman plaque or herbal remedies or even fragrant, peppery essential oil. But my god it’s astounding that when the world is depressed and angst-y and generally going through some kind of identity crisis there is a literally unstoppable, un-killable, pesticide resistant plant called purple nutsedge that can help with all of those things. I wasn’t sure if I could find any and I literally walked five feet out of my back door and there was some mixed in with my lawn. It makes me feel so supported and so loved and so generally caught up in wonder that the earth really does provide everything we need for the time we’re living in and the human condition. All this even when we don’t necessarily treat the earth with the respect she deserves. Thank you to the Divine Mystery. Thank you for purple nutsedge.