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What is Sedge?

Fact Checked

sedges leaves

Story at-a-glance -

  • The sedge family is the third largest monocot family, consisting of over 100 genera
  • Some of the most common types of sedges found in nature are seersucker sedge, native sedge, papyrus sedge and water chestnut
  • The easiest way to identify sedge is by cutting the stem and checking if it’s solid, as grasses usually have hollow stems. Another thing to note is that the cross-section of a stem branch is typically triangular
  • Cyperus rotundus essential oil was found to contain DNA damage-protective, antioxidant and antibacterial properties

Not many people know this, but not all of the shrubs we think of as “grass” actually fall into that category. In fact, there are three distinct types of plants that are casually referred to as “grass.” Under this collective term are rushes, grasses and sedges.1 But while they look alike, these plants belong to different families. This article will primarily focus on sedges, or Cyperaceae.

What You Need to Know About Sedges

The sedge family is the third largest monocot family, consisting of over 100 genera. One of the most common genus is Carex, which includes over 2,000 species. Some of the most common types of sedge found in nature are seersucker sedge, native sedge, papyrus sedge and water chestnut.

Sedge is grass-like, and has linear blades with parallel venation and small, wind-pollinated flowers.2 However, because it can spread easily, sedge may also be categorized as a weed. In regions where sedge is considered a native, it doesn’t pose any threat to the other plants and organisms, but because of human intervention, the spread of sedge to non-native parts has been found to adversely affect the natural ecosystems by competing for both nutrients and light.3

How Do You Identify Sedge?

Because of the similar characteristics between sedges and grasses, it might be challenging to differentiate the two. In fact, sedges are usually referred to as “ornamental grasses,” to avoid confusion. However, if you have a keen eye, it may be easier for you to spot whether the “grass” growing in your yard is really sedge. One of the ways to differentiate sedges from grasses depends on the composition of their branches.

When trying to differentiate sedges from grasses, it’s useful to remember the following rhyme: “Sedges have edges, rushes are round, grasses are hollow right up from the ground”. The easiest way to identify sedge is by cutting its stem and checking if it’s solid, as grasses usually have hollow stems. Another thing to note is that the cross-section of a stem branch is typically triangular. You may also try rolling the branches on your finger to check whether the branch is round or edged.4

Where Does Sedge Grow?

Sedge thrives in moist or wet environments, usually in swamps or marshes. While sedge may grow in partly shaded areas, it can also grow in areas exposed to full sunlight, as long as the soil is kept moist at all times. If you’re trying to grow sedge, note that it’s best planted in direct sunlight if you live in a cool area. If you’re from a warm region, sedge thrives best in partly shaded areas.5

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How to Grow Sedge

Growing sedge, whether in your garden or in a pot, is relatively easy, as it requires minimal plant care, and needs little to no fertilizer. If you’re looking for a specific sedge variety, you may try visiting sedge nurseries or using source seeds from growers.6

However, while sedge is hardy and require little to no attention, the different types can have varying environmental preferences. For example, catlin sedge thrives in partial to full shade, thinning out when it is planted in direct sunlight, while California meadow sedge usually thins out when planted in full shade. Make sure that you’re familiar with the variety you’re planting to ensure that your sedges are going to thrive and look their best at all times.7

Different Uses and Potential Health Benefits of Sedge

Sedge provides wildlife with sustenance with its leaves, seeds and tubers. It is one of the main food sources for insects, wild birds and other herbivorous animals.8 It plays an essential part in marsh ecosystems by providing shelter for various micro and macro organisms, which then serve as food for fish and amphibians. In addition, sedge offers hydrological functions, including water flow stabilization and erosion management.9

Aside from serving as food for wildlife, sedge can be used for its fibers. In the tropics, it’s generally used for basketry, mat weaving, thatching, rope making and fencing.10 In addition, certain species of sedge are used for both medicinal and culinary purposes. Purple nut sedge, for example, is used for its antioxidant properties and its possible effects on diabetes, diarrhea and blood circulation.11

Another variety, water chestnut, is widely utilized in the culinary world, especially in Chinese cuisine. Water chestnuts, or the corms of the Eleocharis dulcis plant, are famous for their resemblance to chestnuts due to their shape and dark brown cover. These corms are frequently prepared as part of duck stuffing, salads and even as a refreshing drink.12

Sedges are also used for ornamental purposes, usually planted in water and woodland gardens, pots and hanging baskets. It’s also typically used for water purification in the Netherlands and Germany.13 It was noted to have the ability to filter pollutants, sediments and heavy metals in water.14

Side Effects of Sedge

While sedge does not primarily cause any trouble to humans, there are select instances where its pollen may trigger pollinosis or hay fever. Despite this possibility, sedge is not referred to as a significant risk factor for allergic reactions.15

Fun Facts About Sedge

Sedge has been around for a long time, having been utilized by Proto-Uralic people as far back as the 9th to 6th century B.C. Fragments from archaeological sites show that these communities used sedge to make fishnets.16

In his book, “First on the Antarctic Continent: Being an Account of the British Antarctic Expedition,” polar explorer Carsten Egeberg Borchgrevink notes that the Finnish people used sedge, which is referred to as “senne grass,” as insulation inside their boots.17

Studies on Cyperus Rotundus Essential Oil

While sedges are often referred to as weeds or ornamental plants, some varieties actually provide numerous health benefits. One of the most notable types of sedge is Cyperus rotundus. In a 2017 study, its essential oil was found to contain DNA damage-protective, antioxidant and antibacterial properties. The researchers also found that the essential oil is able to combat several foodborne pathogens.18

In a 2014 study from the Aesthetic Surgery Journal, Cyperus rotundus oil was found to have antiandrogenic properties, which may help limit hair growth. The study focused on its ability to inhibit hair growth without the risk of hyperpigmentation or irritation that usually accompanies laser hair removal.19

Is Sedge Edible?

Seeing as sedge is a main source of food for animals, you might be wondering whether it also passes as a food source for humans. There are types of sedge that have edible parts, like water chestnuts and chufa, which is now being marketed as tiger nuts.

Raw water chestnuts are a good source of both potassium and vitamin B6, while chufa is rich in phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium, among other essential nutrients.20,21 If you’re curious how you can prepare these two sedge products, here are two easy recipes you can start with:22,23

Nigerian-Style Tiger Nut Milk

Ingredients:

8 ounces raw, organic tiger nuts

1 quart filtered water

1 Ceylon cinnamon stick

3 cardamom pods

1/2 cup organic piloncillo

Procedure:

1. Put the tiger nuts and cinnamon stick in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Slowly pour in warm water.

2. Allow the ingredients to soak in the water for 12 to 24 hours or until softened.

3. Add the mixture and the rest of the ingredients to a high-powered blender. Blend until you get a smooth paste. Add water as necessary to make blending easier.

4. Allow the paste to sit in the fridge for about an hour. Spoon it into a nut milk bag and press it through. Serve over ice.

(Recipe from Nourishing Kitchen)

Endive Water Chestnut Salad

Ingredients:

1 cup walnuts

2 tablespoons honey

Cayenne pepper, to taste

Himalayan salt, to taste

2 endives, leaves separated

2 cups water chestnuts, cut in half

1 red finger chili, sliced

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Juice of 1 lime

Procedure:

For the honey-glazed walnuts:

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

2. Place the walnuts on a baking tray. Drizzle the honey over the walnuts, and season with cayenne pepper and salt.

3. Bake in the oven until the walnuts become golden brown. This usually takes about 10 minutes.

For the salad:

1. Put the endives, water chestnuts and chili in a bowl.

2. Add the honey, apple cider vinegar and lime juice. Gently toss to coat.

3. Season the salad with salt. Garnish with the honey-glazed walnuts.

(Recipe from Cooking Channel)

Sedge in Summary

Whether you see it as an ornamental plant or a weed, sedge actually plays an important part in the survival of numerous organisms in the wild. It also provides plant fibers that may be used for livelihood materials, and with edible parts that we can add to your diet as a rich source of nutrients. So if you’re planning on planting sedge in your backyard, know that you’re adding a very useful plant to your arsenal.

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