Popular as the world’s worst weed, Nut grass is a common and invasive weed that is native to many parts of the world such as Africa, southern and central parts of Europe, and southern Asia. Also known by several names such as coco grass, java grass, red nut sedge and purple nut sedge, this plant can be found growing in abundance in crop fields and wastelands of tropical and temperate countries. This weed is known to be harmful to important crops as the roots releases a substance that is capable of destroying other plants. But despite its bad reputation as a destructive weed, nut grass is considered to have medicinal properties and its tubers have high nutritional value.
Nutritional value and chemical constituents of nut grass
The tubers of nut grass are edible and are believed to be nutritious. This plant is a good source of carbohydrates. According to research, nut grass was an important source of food for people who lived in the ancient prehistoric times. It has also been eaten by people in the famine stricken areas of Africa. Although the tuber tastes bitter, it is rich in minerals, trace elements, fiber, amino acids and other essential nutrients. Nut grass has been found to contain vitamins A, B1, and E, and also good levels of minerals like calcium, copper iron, magnesium and potassium.
In addition to its nutritional benefits, nut grass is also used in modern alternative medicine. A number of chemical compounds have been isolated from this plant and it has been found that some of these compounds possess medicinal properties. Hence they are used in the treatment of many ailments in several countries like China, India, Latin America, etc. According to phytochemical studies, the most important chemical components of nut grass are flavonoids, essential oils, terpenoids, and mono sesquiterpenes. The medicinal properties of this plant can be attributed to the presence of a number of active substances such as α-cyperone, β-selinene, cyperene, cyprotene, kobusone, isokobusone, patchoulenone, sugeonol and many more. Cyperus rotundus also contains an essential oil that contributes to the characteristic taste and odor of this plant.
Medicinal uses of Nut grass
The root of the nut grass plant has been highly valued for many years in traditional Chinese medicine and Indian Ayurvedic medicine for its medicinal qualities. This plant has been used in the treatment and prevention of many ailments. Some of the medicinal uses of nut grass are explained below:
Skin care uses of nut grass
Although the scientific evidence is limited, the nut grass plant has been considered to be beneficial for lightening the skin and for reducing the effects of aging. Nut grass lightens the skin tone by inhibiting the formation of the skin pigment known as melanin. Extrapone, a formulation found in many skin whitening creams is made from the powdered extracts of nut grass roots. It is a natural way of skin lightening without any harmful or toxic side effects. Ayurvedic doctors make use of preparations of nut grass to treat many skin conditions such as itching, fungus infestation, rashes and herpes.
Nut grass promotes weight loss
Nut grass has been found to prevent weight gain. A study that looked into the effect of Cyperus rotundus on obese rats was published in the 2007 issue of “Phytotherapy Research”. In this study some rats were given daily doses of nut grass extract for a period of 60 days. The results indicated that these rats showed a considerable reduction in weight without any change in food portions or causing toxic aftereffects.
Anti-diarrheal properties of nut grass
As per a study published in the 2010 issue of “Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine”, nut grass may be helpful in inhibiting diarrhea in some people. For the study, diarrhea was induced in mice by giving castor oil. Researchers found that when mice were treated with nut grass, it caused inhibition of diarrhea by about 46 percent.
Nut grass is good for the digestive system
The rhizomes of nut grass have been used in traditional folk medicines in many Asian countries for the treatment of diarrhea, dysentery, intestinal parasites, indigestion, bowel disorders and other stomach problems. The chemical constituents present in this plant make it an effective remedy for combating indigestion. Nut grass contains many enzymes and active compounds which that help in stimulating various biochemical reactions that helps in promoting digestion.
Anti-inflammatory activity of nut grass
Studies reveal that the alcoholic extract of nut grass possess anti-inflammatory activity that is effective against carrageenan (an indigestible polysaccharide extracted from red algae, which is commonly used in food as a thickening or stabilizing agent) induced oedema (water retention). It was also found to be effective against formaldehyde induced arthritis in albino rats. The triterpenoid that was obtained by chromatographic separation from petroleum ether extract of nut grass rhizomes also showed very high and powerful anti-inflammatory activity. The anti-inflammatory effects of nut grass make it a potential remedy for the treatment of inflammatory diseases.
Analgesic activity of nut grass
According to studies, the essential oil and petroleum ether extract of nut grass possess strong analgesic properties and hence can be used to relieve pain.
Antipyretic properties of nut grass
Nut grass has been known to be beneficial for reducing fever and body temperature. In one study, the alcoholic extract of Cyperus rotundus was found to exhibit significantly high antipyretic activity against fever or pyrexia in albino rats.
Anticonvulsant activity of nut grass
Another medical benefit of nut grass is its ability to control epileptic seizures or convulsions. It was found that pretreatment with the ethanolic extract of nut grass offered considerable protection against convulsions (strychnine and leptazol-induced) in mice. Studies suggest that the flavonoids found in the ethanol extract may be responsible for the anticonvulsant activity and that this extract may be used to develop medicines for the treatment of epilepsy.
Nut grass can act as a tranquilizer
Nut grass also possesses sedative and tranquilizing properties. Various animal studies showed that the ethanolic extract of nut grass exhibited powerful tranquilizing activity. It was able to reduce the spontaneous motor activity, potentiate the effect of pentobarbital in inducing narcosis, derange the motor coordination and stop the conditioned avoidance response.
Antispastic activity of nut grass
Nut grass is found to have a relaxant action on smooth muscles. Studies on rabbits show that the ethanolic extract of this plant was capable of producing relaxation of the ileum and also produced spasmolytic effect against chemical induced contractions.
Antiemetic action of nut grass
Nut grass is found to be effective against vomiting and nausea as it shows antiemetic properties. The ethanolic extract of nut grass was found to prevent apomorphine induced vomiting in dogs.
Nut grass for managing high blood pressure
Studies showed that the alcoholic extract of nut grass caused slow and persistent lowering of blood pressure. It has been long used in traditional medicine as a remedy for managing high blood pressure.
Nut grass may lower cholesterol
The effect of alcoholic extracts of nut grass on the serum lipid profile of rats was studied. Hyperlipidaemia (high plasma levels of triglycerides and cholesterol) was induced in these animals by feeding them a high fat diet. Treatment with the nut grass extracts showed significant reduction in the total cholesterol, LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglyceride levels. These results suggest that the bioactive compounds found in Cyperus rotundus have the ability to lower cholesterol.
Nut grass protects the liver
Studies conducted on rats indicates that the ethyl acetate extract given to rats with induced liver damage (oral dose of 100 mg/kg) showed an important protective effect on the liver by lowering serum levels of total bilirubin and enzymes like glutamic oxaloacetic transaminase, glutamic pyruvic transaminase, and alkaline phosphatase.
Nut grass shows anti-obesity effects
Nut grass preparations (powder in fine suspension, alcoholic and aqueous extracts) were found to exhibit lipolytic action. Animal studies showed that it helped in mobilizing the fat from the adipose tissues, which in turn helped in reducing obesity. In another study, 30 people with obesity were administered powdered tuber of nut grass for 90 days. The results showed considerable reduction in weight along with a lowering in the levels of serum cholesterol and triglyceride.
Antioxidant activity of nut grass
Nut grass contains many active chemical constituents like phenolics and flavonoids that possess strong antioxidant properties. Studies suggest that the alcohol extracts of this plant exhibit high levels of antioxidant activity. These studies indicate that nut grass can be used as a potential source of natural antioxidant that could be beneficial in slowing down the aging process and also in preventing many degenerative diseases caused by oxidative stress.
Nut grass shows anti-diabetic properties
Extracts of nut grass have been found to cause significant lowering of blood sugar levels in diabetes induced rats. According to scientists, the anti-diabetic properties of this plant can be attributed to the presence of high levels of antioxidants in it.
Nut grass and anti-microbial activity
The extracts on nut grass were found to exhibit anti-microbial activity against bacteria and fungi. The oil of this plant showed a significant activity against gram-positive bacteria Enterococus faecalis and Staphylococcus aureus. According to another study nut grass showed inhibitory activity against Salmonella enteritidis, Enterococcus faecalis and Staphylococcus aureus. Eating the tuber of nut grass is believed to kill the bacteria Streptococcus mutans, which is responsible for tooth decay and the formation of dental plaque and dental caries.The essential oils of nut grass were also found to have anti-candida activity.
In spite of the fact that nut grass is a notorious weed, it is also useful to humans in countless ways. Modern alternative medicine recommends the use of nut grass for the treatment of many health conditions and ailments. So instead of trying to destroy this plant, people should focus on how to make use of its myriad health benefits and medicinal properties.Image Credits: Wikimedia - Javier martin, Wikimedia