Couch grass (botanical name Agropyron repens) belongs to the Hordae genera of the Poaceae or grass family. The genus name Agropyron is derived from the Greek terms ‘agros' meaning field and ‘puros' denoting wheat. The common name of the plant ‘couch' has been derived from the Anglo-Saxon term ‘civice' denoting vivacious. In effect, the couch grass comprises a vast and dissimilar group of plants, but majority of the people actually consider all types of grasses to be roughly similar. The farmers usually consider the couch grass to be a nuisance as it not only invades their agricultural fields, but also produces a chemical substance that slows down the development of other plants. Although, it is considered to be a bothersome weed in North America, in many regions of Europe and Asia, the couch grass hay is used as a fodder for livestock and its tubular root is sometimes consumed by people when there is an acute scarcity of food.
Couch grass is a robustly growing perennial plant that often grows to a height of 32 inches (80 cm). This species of grass has an elongated and crawling tubular root, while the leaves are thin. The plant bears green flowers that are lined up in two rows of straight barbs. The plant produces numerous flower-bearing hollow stems from its long, crawling and sharp rhizomes during July. The stem is condensed at the nodes and bears about five to seven slender leaves. At the terminals, the stems bear greenish crowded blooms that emerge in the apex of two rows of barbs. Couch grass flowers appear much akin to the blooms of breadless wheat and rye. Each flower comprised around eight or more oval-shaped spikelets (small parts of flower clusters) on either side of each barb. The flowers also comprise around four to eight florets (parts of larger flowers) and sometimes also have stiff bristles, which, compared to the flowers, are around half in length. The leaves of couch grass are usually horizontal having an elongated, forked covering that are coarse on the upper side and possess a chain of bristles on all main veins.
This belligerent plant species has elongated and thin tubular roots that have a whitish hue. The ends of these rhizomes are yellow colored and harshly piercing. The base of the leaves of couch grass have add-ons resembling claws and help the leaves to hold onto the stem. The spikelets grow up to 15 cm in length and are arranges in two extended rows appearing horizontally to the stems. Couch grass has the aptitude to rejuvenate from extremely petite split portions of the tubular roots and this makes it very difficult to check the plant's growth and spread mechanically.
Since couch grass is an over powering plant that invades the fields of the farmers destroying their crops, they are never liked by cultivators. The thin, crawling tubular underground stems of the plant travels extensively just below the surface of the soil, frequently producing lateral branches at the nodes, each at a distance of approximately an inch. These nodes produce leaf buds and thin diverging roots. The elongated crawling underground stems of couch grass grow aggressively and can rejuvenate rapidly even from a petite portion of the stem left underground. These rhizome fragments have the aptitude to grow at a hurried pace and engulf a wide area in such a manner that it becomes almost impossible to eliminate them once they have set themselves up in the soil. Couch grass produces a chemical substance that is detrimental for the growth of other plants in the area. Hence, it is not surprising that the common name of the plant ‘couch' has been derived from the Anglo-Saxon term ‘civice' denoting spirited or vivacious keeping in view the plant's stubbornness to remain alive and flourish. It is commonly believed that the only or best possible method to eliminate couch grass from any field is to allow the portion of land to be converted into a meadow for a number of years. Since couch grass thrives best merely in loose soil, the other grasses growing in a compact manner in the pasture will wipe out this aggressive plant over time.
Couch grass is found growing in abundance along the sandy sea sides and is useful in binding the sandy soil, thereby, averting the sand dunes from changing. The extended tubular underground stems of the plant fulfills the requirement to hold the lose soil equally effectively as the Mat and Lyme Grasses.
Although couch grass is virtually undesirable by the farmer and even the commoners generally consider it to be a valueless and bothersome weed, it possesses immense food value for cattle and horses. In fact, it is regarded to be a nutritious food for these animals and, hence, it used extensively as fodder for livestock in many regions of Europe and Asia. In Italy, the farmers take pains to collect them from the fields and sell in the market as fodder. The roots of couch grass have a sugary flavour to some extent resembling that of liquorice. The roots of the herb are dried and pounded to prepare bread and are consumed by humans in many regions when there is an acute paucity of food.
During the classical period or life in the Roman times, Dioscorides (40 AD – 90 AD) and Pliny (23 AD – 79 AD) advocated the use of roots of the couch grass to enhance urine flow as well as treat kidney stones. Much later, in 1597, herbalist John Gerard documented that though couch grass was considered to be a bane by the peasants as it invaded their fields and gardens destroying their crops, the roots of the plant possess purgative properties benefitting those suffering from constipation and also clears the blockages in the liver and uterus with no heat. During food crisis, people roasted the couch grass roots and grounded them as an alternative for flour and coffee.
Rhizome, seeds, root.
Rhizomes of couch grass possess several medicinal properties and are especially used to treat problems of the urinary tract, kidney, gallbladder and prostate glands. In addition, medications prepared with the slender tubular roots of the plant are also used to heal gout and rheumatism.
As the couch grass possesses mild, but effectual diuretic (increasing the flow of urine) and demulcent (mollifying or soothing) properties, it is extensively used to treat different types of urinary tract contagions, including cystitis and urethritis (inflammation of the urethra). Using couch grass in such conditions has a double impact - first, it guards the urinary tubules against several types of contagions and annoyances, and, second, it augments the flow of urine. In addition, couch grass may also be used in combination with other herbs for a variety of remedial processes - treating kidney stones, alleviating inflammation as well as cut wounds or laceration. It is believed that couch grass is highly effective in dissolving kidney stones to a great extent and, in any case, does not allow further extension of the stones. Taking a decoction prepared with couch grass over a period of time has been found to be effective in healing expanded prostate glands as well as prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate gland). In earlier days, herbalists also recommended couch grass for treating gout and rheumatism. German herbal medicine practitioners externally apply a hot and wet pack of heated seeds of couch grass on the abdomen to alleviate peptic ulcers (an ulcer of the upper digestive tract, frequently in the stomach or duodenum). In addition, the juice extracted from the couch grass roots has been traditionally used to heal jaundice and additional disorders of the liver.
Couch grass is especially effective in alleviating the occurrence as well as the soreness of urination - an effectual medication for dysuria (difficult and painful urination) and strangury (a condition marked by slow, painful urination, caused by muscular spasms of the urethra and bladder). This herb may be given to patients when they are enduring any kind of urinary tract inflammation and even in condition wherein too much of pus, mucus or blood passed in the urine. In an indirect manner, couch grass works as a substitute by sweeping away disintegrated substances through the renal organs. The gelatinous substances present in couch grass helps the herb to soothe the mucus membranes and its mollifying properties aid in alleviating annoyance and soreness.
As discussed earlier, the herb is believed to be effective in healing swollen prostate glands and also may be administered to dissolve kidney stones and gravel. Since coach grass possesses diuretic properties (stimulating the flow of urine), it may be used in combination with additional herbs to treat rheumatism (rheumatoid arthritis). In addition, herbalists also recommend the use of couch grass to heal gout. To treat infections of the urinary tract, couch grass is usually used in combination with other herbs like yarrow, uva ursi (bearberry) and buchu. On the other hand, couch grass is used concurrently with hydrangea to treat prostate problems. The herb is used extensively to treat cystitis and also as a remedy for catarrhal disease of the gallbladder. In addition, the herb provides relief from exasperation of the urinary passage and also alleviates soreness in patients having kidney gravel.
Herbal medicine practitioners also recommend the use of couch grass to treat rheumatoid arthritis. The diuretic properties of couch grass is attributed to the sugar content of the herb and for best results it is given in the form of infusion. Add one ounce of couch grass root to a pint of simmering water to prepare the infusion and is taken in doses of a wineglassful. Couch grass may also be given in the form of a decoction prepared by adding two to four ounces of the roots of the plant in a quart of water. Boil the substance in water till the amount of the solution reduces to one pint. On the other hand, the liquid extracted from couch grass is added with water and given in dosages of half to two teaspoonfuls for treating gout and rheumatism.
It is important to note that though the use of couch grass as a herbal remedy has declined over the years, it is official in the Indian and Colonial Addendum of the British Pharmacopoeia for the use of the herb for remedial purposes under Britain's possession - Australasia, Northern and Eastern American colonies. People in these regions used the herb extensively to treat various conditions.
Habitat and cultivation
Earlier known as Triticum repens and now rechristened Agropyron, couch grass is native to North America, but is also found growing in the wild in both the American continents, Europe, the northern regions of Asia and even in Australia. Couch grass may be found growing aggressively in fields, roadsides, waste lands and along the railroads. In fact, this species of plant is extensively spread out growing almost everywhere. Although the farmers consider the plant to be a nuisance, it is harvested all the year round for fodder for livestock.
Basically, two medical formulations can be prepared with the rhizomes of couch grass - decoction and tincture.