Friday, 30 October 2009

Scirpus lacustris - what's that!!

Because of the recent surge in demand for rush restoration, there have been a lot of conversations with customers about what exactly "rush" is. It always comes as a surprise to find that so few people even know that it grows in water and those that do, think it is the reed mace "bulrush" with the brown fluffy poker top. So I thought I would revisit a lot of the really interesting stuff that I have learned over the years about this amazing and yet very ordinary looking plant and share it here.

Its botanical name is Scirpus lacustris and it grows in mainly temperate zones from Lapland through Europe to Asia, north, south and central America. The flowers are clumps of tiny brown bracts, they are hermaphrodite, pollinated by the wind. The plants can grow in light, medium and heavy soils, whether acid, neutral or alkaline. They can grow in semi-shade or no shade, moist or wet soil, ponds, lakes and in a moving body of water. The root is edible raw or cooked and is rich in starch. It can be dried and ground into a powder or made into a syrup. The buds at the end of the rhizomes are crisp and sweet. The seeds can be ground up into a powder and mixed with flour for use in making cakes, the pollen can also be mixed with flour and used in baking. But most interesting of all, the root was traditionally used to treat cancer, it is both diuretic and astringent. (But please...., don't try messing about with any of these things without doing some very serious research and taking really good advice on use beforehand....!)

I also remember reading some time ago that a very large rush bed was planted in Holland to serve as a sewage disposal treatment plant for a very busy holiday camp - it worked, the water was cleaner after filtering through the rush bed than most other modern methods. I also read that another experiment was carried out somewhere, (which sadly ran out of funding!) to see if scirpus could clean "heavy water" ie radioactive and other very dangerously polluted water. It did. More surprisingly when all parts of the plant were tested after filtering the dangerous chemicals, there seemed to be little or no trace of metals, pollutants or radioactivity, amazing.........

And that's just the bit about it's "chemistry", another time I'll put together the folklore and its other practical could take me some time.

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