Plant of the Week – Nutsedge

Nutsedge

Plant of the Week - Nutsedge

Our Plant of the Week is also known as nutgrass, yellow nutgrass, yellow nutsedge, tiger nutsedge, edible galingale, water grass or earth almond.

Cyperus Esculentus

In many parts of the world, nutgrass is grown as a food crop.  Here in the US, we mainly treat it as a weed.  Most people don’t realize that it is an ancient part of our food culture.

History

Native to Southern Europe and the Mediterranean regions, nutgrass, more properly know as nutsedge since it technically is not a grass but a sedge.  There is evidence that nutsedge was cultivated as a food crop as far back as the sixth millennium BC in Egypt.  In Southern Europe, it is commonly known as tiger nutsedge or earth almond, because of the small edible tubers produced on the roots.  Many cultures used the tubers to produce a fermented beverage called chufa. 

Some historians consider nutsedge to be among the longest cultivated crops in the world.  The dried tubers were found in 6000-year-old tombs in Egypt.  Cultivation as a food crop continues to this day in Southern Europe, mostly in Spain.   Tiger nuts are being rediscovered today and produced commercially in the form of flour.

Biology

Nutsedge is an annual or a perennial.  It reproduces by seed, creeping rhizomes, and tubers.  Nutsedge is easy to identify by the triangular section and the slender leaves which erupt in three directions.  Seed heads are distinctive with a cluster of flat oval seeds surrounded by four hanging; leaf-like bracts situated 90 degrees from each other.  The plants produce an extensive root system on which the small, hard spherical tubers grow, giving the plant its name, nutsedge or nutgrass.

One plant can produce several hundred to a thousand of these tubers during a growing season.  Nutsedge prefers cool temperatures but can manage through heat.  It takes an extreme winter event to kill the subsurface parts of the plants, making it act more like a perennial than an annual in most parts of the country.  It prefers shade in hot climates.

Cultivation

Nutsedge flourishes in soils that are high in nitrogen and long sunlit days.  Soil conditions are not an issue, with nutsedge flourishing in even the most adverse conditions.  Nutsedge is often seen in rice paddies so boggy wet soil is not a problem.  Naturally occurring concentrations of nutsedge are often found in low-lying wetlands. 

Requirements

If you want to plant nutsedge in your garden as an edible, a good place would be around a water feature in a specially prepared bog area.  It will coexist well with other bog plants and adds a grassy feel to the planting.  We would suggest that if you are planting that you take care where you place it as it can be invasive. 

The nuts are harvested in winter, usually November or December.  Sandy loose soil is the best media as it allows the root system to be removed easily making harvesting the tubers much easier.  Tight soil will need to be dug and screened to recover most of the tubers.  Nutsedge tubers should be washed immediately after harvesting and then dried.  Drying can be accomplished in the sun or using a dehydrator if monitored carefully.  Be aware that the tubers will lose approximately 70 to 90 percent of the weight in water.  It takes a lot of tubers to make a small about of useable dried nut.

Uses

Tiger nut has a smooth tender nutty taste.  It can be eaten raw, roasted, baked, to create a tiger nut milk or ground to flour after being roasted to remove the moisture. 

The tubers are rich in energy content, mainly in the form of starch, fat, and sugars.  They also contain a fair amount of protein and dietary minerals. 

Cautions

Care must be taken in cultivating Nutsedge as other closely related varieties may creep into your growing area.  Purple nutsedge (Cyperus Rotundus) looks almost exactly like Yellow nutsedge, but the tubers are extremely bitter.

Watch our website for more information about Nutsedge, including recipes using the flower and information on preparing some of the beverages fermented from the tubers.

References

 Sánchez‐Zapata, Elena; Fernández‐López, Juana; Pérez‐Alvarez, José Angel (2012-07-01). “Tiger Nut (Cyperus esculentus) Commercialization: Health Aspects, Composition, Properties, and Food Applications”. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. 11 (4): 366–377. doi:10.1111/j.1541-4337.2012.00190.xISSN 1541-4337.

Sánchez-Zapata, E; Fernández-López, J; Angel Pérez-Alvarez, J (2012). “Tiger Nut (Cyperus esculentus) Commercialization: Health Aspects, Composition, Properties, and Food Applications”. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety11 (4): 366–77. doi:10.1111/j.1541-4337.2012.00190.x.

USGS Weeds in the West project: Status of introduced Plants in Southern Arizona Parks, Factsheets for Cyperus esculentus L., 2003, Tucson, Arizona

Belewu, MA; Abodunrin, OA (2008). “Preparation of Kunnu from Unexploited Rich Food Source: Tiger Nut (Cyperus esculentus)”. Pakistan Journal of Nutrition7: 109–11. doi:10.3923/pjn.2008.109.111.

 Stoller, E. W.; Wax, L. M. (1973-01-01). “Yellow Nutsedge Shoot Emergence and Tuber Longevity”. Weed Science. 21 (1): 76–81. JSTOR 4042258.