Nutsedge is one of the oldest plants found in Egyptian predynastic sites that was used for food. Its tubers continued to be used in historical times in Egypt, both as food, as well as in medications.
Eric Danell has this to say about the plant:
The spikelets of Purple nutsedge (Cyperus rotundus, Cyperaceae) carry the flowers. The ‘hairs’ are the male anthers. It is one of the most advanced land plants on Earth, being independent of insects for its pollination (it uses the wind) and independent of fungi for its mineral uptake (no mycorrhiza). A medicinal plant to some, a cheap substitute for grass to others, or the world’s most serious weed? It is all in the eye of the beholder.
The use of yellow nutsedge has its origins in ancient Egypt. Chufa was one the first domesticated crops, having been found in vases in the tombs of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs. Chufa was widely used in Egypt and Sudan. Its dry tubers have been found in tombs from pre-dynastic times (4000 B.C.).
The Arabs introduced the plant to Spain during the time of the Moorish kings (up to 1200 A.D.). The Eastern Spanish province of Valencia was the best for growing chufa. There are written records from the 13th century which mention the consumption of drink made from chufa (a predecessor to the horchata drink) in the region of Valencia.
Whether it was ‘domesticated,’ or remained wild and was collected on a seasonal basis, is open to debate. I remember an article on its use in predynastic Egypt published a few years ago, which I’ve been unable to relocate on the web, but have included several other references.
One of the ingredients given in the Ebers Papyrus for treating the common cold is purple nutsedge (below, an example of one of the pages from the Ebers Papyrus in hieratic, followed by hieroglyphs, and then translated):
Another [medicine for curing a cold]:
1/16 juniper berries
1/16 Lower Egyptian jbw-plant, (an unidentified plant)
1/16 jbxj-liquid, (an unspecified liquid)
1/16 celery of the desert
1/16 celery of the North
1/16 pSnt-Mineral, (mineral not specifically designated)
1/16 tjam-plant, (an unidentified plant)
1/16 xbw-plant, (an unidentified plant)
1/16 Swt-Nmtj-plant, (creeping cinquefoil (Potentilla reptans)? Beard grass?)
1/32 white six-row barley
1/16 six-row barley green
5 ro conifer turpentine
1/16 gyt plant (a plant – the same as gjw – purple nutsedge)
5 ro psD (an unspecified fruit)-mineral
1/16 rwD mineral (a not-designated mineral)
1/8 xt-ds-plant (Myrtle (Myrtus communis)?
Dress or bandage with it
Three questions are addressed in this study: Diet and Dental Health in Predynastic Egypt – A Comparison of Hierakonpolis and Naqada
(1) Which of the available flora and fauna were being eaten? While specific food could not be identified individually, cultivated items such as bread and raw vegetables were consumed by all individuals at Hierakonpolis but mostly women and children at Naqada. At least some meat and/or fish was consumed at both sites.
(2) Were food types found as burial offerings being eaten? Consumption of at least two burial offerings, bread and nutsedge (Hierakonpolis only), are supported.
(3) Were the working class inhabitants of Hierakonpolis and Naqada consuming the same diet? While the major portions of the diet appear to be similar, this study found both dietary and behavioral differences between the working class members of these sites.
Interestingly, nutsedge remains that were used in cooking were found only at Hierakonpolis – and not at Naqada, which is not that distanced from Hierakonpolis:
Yellow nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus), sometimes called Earth almond or Chufa, has tuberous roots that can be eaten raw or cooked. Their sweet, nutty flavor makes them ideal for a multitude of recipes, from soups to sweets.
According to Cornucopia II: A Sourcebook of Edible Plants, yellow nutsedge was used to add sweetness to ancient Egyptian barley juice, and in Spain, the tubers are added to horchata de chufa, a beverage “prepared by mixing the ground tubers with water, cinnamon, sugar, vanilla and ice.”
And of course, not to forget perhaps the most famous of the sedges – papyrus, from which the Egyptians made paper . The tubers of papyrus were also eaten from predynastic times – as they were up to current times in some parts of tropical Africa and all along the White Nile.
For this entry, I’m continuing to look for information such as the following, on sedges used in the Nile valley:
Domestication is seen as a three-step process of initial biological and ecological studies, an investigation of propagation methods and a selection process either prior to propagation or, if necessary, after propagation has been resolved.
I will be adding more information to this blog.
- An Ancient Egyptian ‘Recipe’ – for curing urinary ailments (dianabuja.wordpress.com)
- ‘Recipes’ for Treating the Eyes: Papyrus Ebers (dianabuja.wordpress.com)
- Food strikes in Ancient Egypt – The Turin Strike Papyrus, and Other Records (dianabuja.wordpress.com)