Yesterday I had an hour after my clinic to do some work in the garden. I planned to dig over a fallow bed and was delighted to find that it contained a good crop of Couch grass. I know that most gardeners wouldn’t be so happy, Couch grass being almost universally reviled as a nuisance. It spreads by long rhizomes and it only needs the tiniest piece to start a new colony. If you are trying to rid your garden of this plant you need to be thorough and vigilant!
I know Couch grass by its former Latin name Agropyron repens. Unfortunately Botanists have recently seen fit to change its name to Elymus repens. Call me old fashioned but my stock of Couch grass tincture and dried herb will stay in the ‘A’ section of my dispensary. I am so used to referring to it as Agropyron repens and it saves me re-organising all my tincture bottles.
I like to use fresh plant material for tincture, it is the rhizomes which are used medicinally. I don’t grow Couch grass in my garden on purpose though – that would be a bridge too far! I normally plant some in a couple of large tubs of compost and let it thrive over the summer, safely contained. At the end of the season I can just tip it out and pick up the rhizomes. Finding this crop in a fallow bed was a great bonus.
If you are not familiar with the medicinal properties of Couch grass let me fill you in so you can at least empathise with my excitement. Ellingwood (1918) describes it as ‘a renal sedative’. It doesn’t stimulate the kidneys to work harder like some of the aromatic diuretics, but relaxes the tubules, opening the structure so that more water can pass out and the urine becomes more dilute. This is very useful where there is inflammation and irritation of the mucous membranes of the bladder and urinary system in general. As well as relaxing the tubules, Couch grass is soothing and demulcent, acting directly as an anti-inflammatory. By increasing the capacity of the tubules and encouraging more copious urine production, the remedy is useful where there is urinary gravel, as it flushes it out. It is also good in the herbal treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia.
Added to this gentle flushing and soothing effect, Couch grass is directly anti-microbial through its terpene constituent ‘agropyrene’. This makes it a very good herb in the treatment of cystitis and prostatitis. Make a decoction of the fresh rhizomes, simmering two teaspoons of cut rhizome in a large cup of water for 15 minutes strain and drink. Take three cups a day until your troubles have passed.
Having said this I don’t really work with the ‘take this herb for this ailment’ herbal school of thought. Couch grass is an excellent tool for helping to rebalance the body where there are urinary system issues but if you are suffering from frequent urination and bouts of cystitis then you will need to look at the root cause. A diet high in sugars, too much caffeine, poor circulation and a sedentary lifestyle are frequent culprits.
So Couch grass is a welcome visitor to my garden, although I am clearing it from the bed in question to make way for other herbal crops. I know that there will always be little islands of it in years to come so I can cultivate it when I need it, but for now I have a good supply to replenish my dispensary. Oh and before you ask – I have plenty now so I won’t be coming to clear your beds for you!
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Lovely post – this really cheered up my morning bus journey – damn those botanists and their re-classifications though.
Glad you enjoyed it! I agree about botanists- just when you get used to a plant name it is changed!
I am very glad I found your blog. I have always been interested in gathering scutch but have yet to try it. At the moment I am keen to try gathering small flowered willow herb. Can you recommend any online resources for a good description? I want to be sure I am gathering the right thing. Do you recommend gathering the whole plant now, root and all? I came across it on a foraging blog originally. Has it any edible use do you think? Grateful for any help here,
Hi Aisling – Glad you like the blog! Re the Small Flowered Willow Herb I gather the tops but try to do so earlier in the season as otherwise the seed heads pop and spread fluff in the dehydrators. You’ll just have to search through Google images and look at lots of different ones until you feel confident that you have ‘got it’. I always think it is better if someone actually shows you though. I don’t know about any edible use for it – just medicinal.