Uses of sedges

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Uses of sedges

It is not widely known that sedges have considerable economic and ecological importance.

Sedges, the Cyperaceae family, have a reputation for being incredibly difficult to identify and often the uninitiated when asked to identify them will call them grasses (see What are sedges?).

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Sedges as food

Chinese water chestnut Eleocharis dulcis © Francisco Manuel Blanco (O.S.A.)

Unlike grasses not many of the sedges are used for human food although there are several species, the most notable of these being the tubers of the Chinese water chestnut (Eleocharis dulcis) that is an important crop in Asia and the Tigernut or Chufa (Cyperus esculentus).

Some species of sedge are often important pasture and rangeland plants and provide fodder for domestic animals.

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Sedges as fuel

The Heracles Papyrus (Oxyrhynchus Pap. 2331) © Oxford, Sackler Library

Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) was used in ancient Egypt for papermaking and for the construction of boats and is now used to provide fuel in the tropics. Other species of sedge are also becoming increasingly important as a fuel source.

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Sedges in horticulture

Sedges are being used increasingly in horticulture and although most sedge have specific habitats, in cultivation they are adaptable to a wide range of conditions. They can be used for waterside planting, as ornamental plants (especially those with variegated leaves) and smaller species are even sold as a groundcover for bonsai trays!

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Traditional sedge uses

Sedges are traditionally used for their strong, fibrous leaves and stems for weaving household items, such as baskets and mats and in the construction of boats and houses, for thatching, fencing and rope making. Some species are used in perfumery and pot pourri and several species for their medicinal properties.

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References: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Encyclopaedia Britannica; aob.oxfordjournals.org; Role of Sedges (Cyperaceae) in Wetlands and their Economic, Ethno-botanical Importance, Sanjay Mishra and Devendra Kumar Chauhan; University of Reading, reading.ac.uk/centaur.