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Thursday, September 29, 2011


Wild sugar cane is a weed in the Indian subcontinent and covers vast tracts of waste land. I thought it was a type of papyrus such as is found in the middle of carefully manicured lawns in Britain. I was clearly wrong. Wild sugar cane can be useful because it can be crossed with sugar cane, Saccharum officinarum to create a more disease resistant sugar cane. Because of its deep root system and rhizomes it is also useful in preventing soil erosion. It is a member of the Poaceae family of plants so is related to maize or sweet corn, black rice (other rice too), sorghum, millet, rye, oats, barley and wheat.
   Apart from being common in the Indian subcontinent it is also prolific in South Africa, Central America, the USA, the Middle East, tropical Africa, and South-East Asia as well as to the Pacific Basin.  It’s a tall perennial grass growing to heights of up to 4 metres. In India large tracts of arable lad have been abandoned to it because it is so difficult to get rid of. The roots and rhizomes go deep into the soil, and only if land is very well ploughed can they be got rid of. Unfortunately many villagers with land can’t afford a tractor.
  It has been used in traditional medicine in the Indian subcontinent for centuries, with its roots said to have astringent and emollient properties so it can soothe irritated skin and heal wounds. It is used to treat indigestion, and to relieve biliousness, as well as to cool the body. The leaves can be heated and used in a poultice to relieve the inflammation of painful joints, perhaps as a result of arthritis or rheumatism. It can also be used as a purgative and the aerial parts are supposed to have aphrodisiac qualities. In India it is used for erectile dysfunctions, gynaecological problems and respiratory disorders among other ailments.
  A decoction made from the roots and rhizomes of the wild sugar cane, or Kans grass as it is also known, is used to promote milk in breast feeding mothers and as a diuretic. A decoction of the top parts of the plant is used for blood disorders, haemorrhages and biliousness among other things. Modern clinical trials have been few and far between, but on study conducted in 2009 seemed to show that the plant can kill cancer cells in vitro and has antioxidant properties as well as having antibacterial ones.
 The leaves and stems of the plant can be utilized to make paper, as well as being used for thatch. They also provide a live hedge around small-holders’ vegetable patches. It is thought that this wild plant just may be the ancestor of sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum).

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