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Saturday, November 26, 2011

COUCH GRASS - ANNOYING WEED WITH SAVING GRACES: HISTORY, HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF COUCH GRASS


COUCH GRASS, ELTRIGIA REPENS / ELYMUS REPENS/ AGROPYUM REPENS 
Couch grass (pronounced coo-ch) is a much reviled weed that loves growing on lawns in Britain and infuriates gardeners because it is difficult to get rid of. It is classed as an invasive weed in the US, although some believe it is a native species in both North and South America. It is certainly a native of Europe, North Asia and North Africa, as well as Australia. It is a member of the Poacea or Gramineae family which includes rye, millet (bajra), oats, barley, sorghum and wheat as well as sugar cane and the grasses.
  It is known as Quitch or Quitch grass (perhaps this is how J. K. Rowling invented Quidditch, the name of Harry Potter’s favourite game) and Quackgrass so has as many English names as Latin ones for its genus.  Another of its names is Dog’s Grass, because dogs will search for the rough leaves if they feel ill and will eat them to make themselves vomit.
 Although it is viewed as a pest today, the root was valued in the past for its medicinal properties. It is a sweet-tasting root that is said to taste a little like liquorice. It is the root which is usually used in traditional medicine systems, and it has been used since Roman times as a diuretic and to expel gravel in the bladder. The root has also been used as a coffee substitute like that of the dandelion and chicory when roasted. The young leaves and shoots can be eaten raw in spring and the root has also been ground to make meal and then mixed with wheat flour in times of scarcity.
  Couch grass has been approved by the German Commission E for urinary tract infections, and is useful if you have cystitis as it soothes the urinary tract and promotes the flow of urine. It is also said to be good for Benign Prostate Hypertrophy (BPH), for gout and rheumatism. The infusion, one ounce or the root to one pint of boiling water, steeped for 20 minutes can also be used externally as a wash for swollen limbs. It can also be drunk as a diuretic and to remove gravel. The wash will also act as a moisturizer for dry skin and is said to be useful for making rough skin smoother. The decoction can be made with 2-4 ounces of the chopped root boiled in 2 pints of water until the water has been reduced by half. Juice expressed from the roots can be added to water and drunk too. For this you need half a teaspoon to 2 teaspoons of juice and water. It has also been used as a mild laxative, although eating bananas might be easier and more productive.
  Culpeper writing in his Herbal in the 17th century has this to say about it: -
“the most medicinal of all the quick grasses. The roots of it act powerfully by urine; they should be dried and powdered, for the decoction by water is too strong for tender stomachs, therefore should be sparingly used when given that way to children to destroy the worms. The way of use is to bruise the roots, and having well boiled them in white wine, drink the decoction; it is opening, not purging, very safe: it is a remedy against all diseases coming of stopping, and such are half those that are incident to the body of man; and although a gardener be of another opinion, yet a physician holds half an acre of them to be worth five acres of carrots twice told over.”
  Gerard, writing in the 16th century wrote: -                                                 
“Although that Couch-grasse be an unwelcome guest to fields and gardens, yet his physicke virtues do recompense those hurts; for it openeth the stoppings of the liver and reins without any manifest heat.”
 In his time it was used for cirrhosis of the liver and for jaundice.
    It is thought that the glycolic acid in the root makes it a good diuretic, and that the agropyrene also present makes it an antibiotic. One study by Newell et al (1996) found that it had sedative properties when given to rats and mice. It contains the phenolic glycoside, vanillin, the minerals calcium, phosphorous and potassium, flavonoids which include tricin; fructose, pectin, glucose, inositol and mannitol and the aerial parts are high in protein which makes it good animal feed.
  If its presence is annoying you and you don’t want to use it medicinally, an infusion of the whole chopped plant will make very good liquid plant food. It is a useful grass and not just an invasive weed.

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