The other day, I watched my boy having fun in the canoe ... rowing through thick bulrush. This sight brought buried memories back from a long, long time ago. I also have a interest in Natural Medicine ... so I refreshed the memories ...
The 'bulrush' I'm talking about is of the genus Typha, with the common names of reedmace, cattail, corn dog grass, bulrush and cumbungi (Australia) in various countries. Evidence of bulrush residue on grinding stones dating back 30 000 years ago indicates its importance as a staple food long before the agricultural revolution.
The most common and widespread species is Typha latifolia, which has only recently been introduced to Australia. Species native to Australia is Typha domingensis (narrow leaf cumbungi) and Typha orientalis (broadleaf cumbungi). Cumbungi is found in Australia in stationary or slow-flowing water up to 2m's deep.
The rhizome of cumbungi was used by Aboriginal people for food and string-making. Bulrush/cumbungi damper was a main staple food of many Aboriginal tribes. The protein content of the rhizome is comparable to maize or rice. The mature brown flower stalk can be pulled apart and mixed into a damper made from the rhizome. The fleshy white rhizomes were collected in January/February by Aboriginal women. The roots were roasted in a hole in the ground and either consumed hot or taken as provision on hunting expeditions. The pollen is very high in sugar and protein and can be cooked on its own as a damper.
The young shoots can be eaten raw or used like bamboo shoots. The inner portion of the young shoots were very popular with the Cossacks in Russia, therefore the name 'Cossack asparagus.' In early summer the inner part of the green flower spike can be cooked and eaten like corn. The bases of young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked.
Around the world, Typha has been used to construct rafts and boats. The US Navy used the down of Typha in life vests and aviation jackets during WW II. Typha is also used as material for thermal insulation in buildings.
Some Native American tribes used the downy material as tinder to start fires, to line moccasins and for bedding.
The boiled root stocks have been used to increase urination (diuretic). The rhizome mash were used as pastes for sores, boils, wounds and burns. In Chinese medicine, the most common use for bulrush is to stop bleeding (traumatic injuries or internal disorders), as well as with hematemesis (vomiting of blood), nose bleeds and blood in the urine. It is also used to treat dysmenorrheal (pain during menstruation) and postpartum abdominal pain. There is also evidence that extracts can reduce blood lipids and treat colitis (inflammation of large intestine).
The bulrush I remember well from Southern Africa is Typha capensis ... or better known as the love reed. The rhizome is used as a male sexual tonic that also improves the
circulation in the 'area that matters' ... enhancing libido and male sexual potency. Research has shown that
the phytosteroids in Typha capensis may be metabolized to an androgen
beneficial to male sex drive and performance.
It's all in the Bulrush. I'm working on a few Bulrush recipes ... coming soon.