Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Know Thine Enemy
I hasten to don my rose coloured glasses as I consider the attributes of this mightiest of all the gardeners' enemies - the dreaded cutch grass, a.k. quake grass, dog grass, quitch grass, Dutch grass, Fin's grass, Scotch quelch, wheat grass, twitch grass, devil's grass and witch grass.
These aliases confirm the world wide spread of the enemy, and the last two in particular describe the firm belief of its origin held by any gardener bent double after a day's battle with said enemy.
I have no doubt that the Parable of the Weeds and Tares in the Wheat refer to cutch grass, and although any interpretation of this parable that I have read has in no way been charitable to the Weeds and Tares, I say unto you, I do not believe anything is created in vain! And so it is with The Cutch, - I do not believe it was created solely to be the bane of all gardeners!
So on with the assessment of this most mortal of all enemies to be found in the garden. Slugs included!!!
My first impression of The Cutch is that it has exceeded its good qualities beyond the bounds of civility and moderation. As usual, all things carried to excess contain within them the dangers of offence.
It would appear that this is what has made The Cutch so oppressive to the poor gardener who has to contend with it.
In Europe, it is said, its qualities of persistence and invasiveness have been a boon to those who PLANT IT ( can you imagine) in fields where it is an excellent source of forage for cattle and horses. The same attributes that make it noxious in the garden smile upon it in the field. It is drought resistant, tillage-resistant, and appreciates manure (which no doubt accounts for the great quantities of The Cutch that arrived in the loads of top soil that enabled us to even have a garden in this pebbly corner....
I have read that "in Italy especially the roots of The Cutch are carefully gathered by the peasants and sold in the markets. They have a sweet taste, somewhat resembling liquorice, and Withering relates that, dried and ground into meal, bread has been made with them in time of scarcity." (M. Grieve, 1931)
And Nicholas Culpepper, in 1653, claimed that he had heard it said a half an acre of The Cutch was worth five acres of carrots twice told over.
"Although that Couch-grasse be an unwelcome guest to fields and gardens, yet his physicke virtues do recompense those hurts; for it openeth the stoppings of the liver and reins without any manifest heat." -- Gerard (quoted in Grieve)
Now, how can you argue with those ancient recommendations.
Carrying on to the Medicinal qualities that The Cutch hides within it's noxious roots, I found these qualities to be even more redeeming of its evil ways in the garden.
This "herb' is a diuretic with a long folk history of use for bladder and kidney stones. It is used for respiratory complaints, for bronchitis, and for laryngitis. The Green Pharmacy recommends making a tea with two to ten teaspoons of the underground parts of the herb, chopped and steeped for five to ten minutes in a cup or two of boiling water. Those same Europeans who use The Cutch to feed their cattle also drink up to four cups of the medicinal tea a day, - if they are so inclined! And some even quaff it from a wine glass!
Other references cite its use as an antibiotic, antilithis, antimicrobial, antiphloistic, and a blood purified. The claim it is effective when used to treat Bright's disease, calcul, catarrh, constipation, cystitis, demulcent, depurative, discutient, emollient, eyes, female disorders, fevers, gallstones, gout gravel, jaundice, kidney, lower back pain, pectoral, prostrate (enlarged, rheumatism, skin diseases, stones, duorific, syphilis, tonic, and unrinary infections.
I don't even know what half those things are, but it confirms to me that whoever created The Cutch certainly knew what He/She was doing, and one best be careful about its eradication.
And speaking of eradication, do not err in thinking that this is easy to accomplish. Burying or turning The Cutch will not kill it. The roots will spread and shoots will reappear.
Digging the roots of The Cutch is hard work. They are dense and bind even the lightest soil.
And they grow extremely quickly. Roots which you thought you had conquered after a hard day's skirmish can reappear again within a week, defiantly thumbing their noses, or could I say, even using the fourth finger in obscene insolence.
However, The Cutch is shallow rooted, and therein lies its weakness. It has no long taper like roots going deep into the ground and so if you attack this problem intellectually with a shovel (some would call this an oxymoron, but you and I know that it is possible to be intellectual on the end of a shovel - as we lean and rest upon it perhaps we could devise a scheme wherein certain enthusiasts come in to harvest The Cutch!!!) you will dig the soil well and remove the roots with relative ease. Except in cases where The Cutch has wound itself inexorably around a favourite perennial, and is so closely bound with it it is impossible to extricate The Cutch root from the flower root. Alas, alas, - I threw such a bundle of roots over the garden fence just two days ago, sacrificing a Shasta Daisy, a victim of the Battle.
I suppose that this exercise in research and reflection has given me more respect for the avowed enemy that awaits me in the garden - ever ready to do battle - ever ready to assert its territorial rights and to carry its banners into all sorts and conditions of gardens and fields.
However, it does not weaken my resolve to banish The Cutch from this particular garden, and so I don my gardening shoes and gloves, - put the rose coloured glasses away from me and go forth to do battle!!! Onward and Upward.....regardless of Physicke virtues! Unless of course we establish a new custom at tea time and have a glass of Cutch Decoction..
More than you ever wanted to know about the ubiquitous cutch grass, I'm sure.