Yellow nutsedge is a noxious weed but it has real potential


Yellow nutsedge is one of the most despised weeds of our flower and vegetable gardens. Eradicating it from your property is almost impossible. Pull it all out and more plants show up within days.
Most people refer to it as a grass, but its stems are triangular in cross-section, which makes it a sedge. It appears in mid-spring and lasts until fall. Plants can grow up to three feet tall if left alone. Nutsedge is extremely tolerant of prolonged wetness, so it survives where other plants won’t.
Seed heads emerge in summer. Light tan to golden brown seed heads are surrounded by a ring of leaf-like structures called bracts. Seeds can spread to form new plants, but that’s not what makes this plant so prolific.
A series of underground stems called rhizomes intermingle with the roots. At the end of each rhizome is a tuber, often called a nutlet. A tuber is a swollen stem for food storage and reproduction. Potatoes reproduce by tubers. A single nutsedge plant may produce several thousand tubers per year. They are a little larger than garden peas.
These nutlike structures remain underground when plants are pulled from the garden. New plants spring up shortly afterwards. Individual tubers contain many buds and can sprout several times before exhausting their energy.
This grass-like weed is common in almost every state as well as many of the Canadian provinces and much of Mexico. Nutsedge isn’t controlled well by most herbicides. Often when plants are sprayed, the nutlets fall off and aren’t affected by the chemical. That’s one reason they are difficult to control. Consequently, numerous chemicals have been developed specifically to control this weed. It’s tough and vilified.
Thirty-six years ago I studied this species in my plant taxonomy class. I remember its scientific name was Cyperus esculentus. In Latin, esculentus means edible, but few farmers or gardeners ever consider eating it.
The tubers are quite good. When dried and roasted they have a somewhat sweet flavor, almost like hazelnuts. I’ve even heard them referred to as earth almonds. Native Americans used nutsedge as food and medicine. They consumed the seeds as well as tubers.
Those familiar with chufa might recognize the flavor. It’s a common food in much of Africa among other places and has been for centuries. According to records, Egyptians consumed it over 4000 years ago.
Tubers are high in Omega-3 fatty acids and make high quality oil similar to olive oil. Chufa and nutsedge are variants of the same species. The only difference is that chufa is less winter hardy. Chufa tubers are also a little larger.
If you want to collect some nutsedge tubers to try, you’ll have no trouble finding some. Obviously, collect from an area not treated with herbicides. Also, remember that they are small. You’ll have to gather a bunch. If ridding the area of them is your goal, you still won’t get them all. Additionally, cleaning them up in all but the sandiest soils can be quite a pain.

young nutsedge plants dominating the weed scene

young nutsedge plants dominating the weed scene

nutsedge plants showing triangular stems and beginning to set tubers

nutsedge plants showing triangular stems and beginning to set tubers

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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3 Responses to Yellow nutsedge is a noxious weed but it has real potential

  1. Bob Bresnahan says:

    Do you have a blog I could subscribe to? Bob Bresnahan. Bresatty@yahoo.com

    • tedmanzer says:

      You’re right. Yellow nutsedge is one of the toughest weeds to eradicate. The nutlets fall off and show up in short order. Seed can remain dormant a long time too. I was thinking more on the line of undeveloped countries, but the nutlets are edible and quite good if you have the patience to clean them up.

    • tedmanzer says:

      All I have right now is this wordpress blog at tedmanzer.com.

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