In researching what type of reeds were best suited for our new reedbeds, I discovered that the humble reedmace – or Bulrush as many people know it, is a quite remarkable plant. It is hardy, frost resistant, likes wet ground, and can remove high levels of toxins from the environment, although care should be taken if consuming it to ensure that it hasn’t come from a contaminated area. Having found out more about this incredible plant, I wonder why there aren’t folk out there growing it as a crop. Here are many of the uses to which it can be put –
Roots – raw or cooked. They can be boiled and eaten like potatoes or macerated and then boiled to yield a sweet syrup. The roots can also be dried and ground into a powder, this powder is rich in protein and can be mixed with wheat flour and then used for making bread, biscuits, muffins etc. One hectare of this plant can produce 8 tonnes of flour from the rootstock. The plant is best harvested from late autumn to early spring since it is richest in starch at this time. The root contains about 80% carbohydrate (30 – 46% starch) and 6 – 8% protein.
Young shoots in spring – raw or cooked. An asparagus substitute. They taste like cucumber. The shoots can still be used when they are up to 50cm long.
Base of mature stem – raw or cooked. It is best to remove the outer part of the stem. It is called ‘Cossack asparagus’.
Immature flowering spike – raw, cooked or made into a soup. It tastes like sweet corn.
Seed – raw or cooked. The seed is rather small and fiddly to utilize, but has a pleasant nutty taste when roasted. The seed can be ground into a flour and used in making cakes etc. An edible oil is obtained from the seed. Due to the small size of the seed this is probably not a very worthwhile crop.
Pollen – raw or cooked. The pollen can be used as a protein rich additive to flour when making bread, porridge etc.It can also be eaten with the young flowers, which makes it considerably easier to utilize. The pollen can be harvested by placing the flowering stem over a wide but shallow container and then gently tapping the stem and brushing the pollen off with a fine brush. This will help to pollinate the plant and thereby ensure that both pollen and seeds can be harvested.
The leaves are diuretic. The leaves have been mixed with oil and used as a poultice on sores.
The pollen is astringent, diuretic, emmenagogue, haemostatic, refrigerant, sedative, suppurative and vulnerary. The dried pollen is said to be anticoagulant, but when roasted with charcoal it becomes haemostatic. It is used internally in the treatment of kidney stones, haemorrhage, painful menstruation, abnormal uterine bleeding, post-partum pains, abscesses and cancer of the lymphatic system. It should not be prescribed for pregnant women. Externally, it is used in the treatment of tapeworms, diarrhoea and injuries.
A decoction of the stems has been used in the treatment of whooping cough. The roots are diuretic, galactogogue, refrigerant and tonic.
The roots are pounded into a jelly-like consistency and applied as a poultice to wounds, cuts, boils, sores, carbuncles, inflammations, burns and scalds. The flowers are used in the treatment of a wide range of ailments including abdominal pain, amenorrhoea, cystitis, dysuria, metrorrhagia and vaginitis.
The young flower heads are eaten as a treatment for diarrhoea.
The seed down has been used as a dressing on burns and scalds.
The stems and leaves have many uses. Gathered in the autumn they make a good thatch, can be used in making paper, can be woven into mats, chairs, hats etc. They are a good source of biomass, making an excellent addition to the compost heap or used as a source of fuel etc. The pulp of the plant can be converted into rayon. The stems can be used to make rush lights. The outer stem is removed except for a small strip about 10mm wide which acts as a spine to keep the stem erect. The stem is then soaked in oil and can be lit and used like a candle.
The female flowers make an excellent tinder and can be lit from the spark of a flint. A fibre is obtained from the blossom stem and flowers.
A fibre obtained from the leaves can be used for making paper. The leaves are harvested in summer, autumn or winter and are soaked in water for 24 hours prior to cooking. The fibres are cooked for 2 hours with soda ash and then beaten in a ball mill for 1½ hours. They make a green or brown paper.
The hairs of the fruits are used for stuffing pillows etc. They have good insulating and buoyancy properties and have also been used as a wound dressing and a lining for babies nappies.
The flowering stems can be dried and used for insulation, they also have good buoyancy properties. The pollen is highly inflammable, it is used in making fireworks etc.
These details were originally published on http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Typha+latifolia where you can find further information, or download a PDF of the details here