Narrowleaf rush (Cattail)

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Narrowleaf rush is an autochthonous plant in Europe, Africa, North America, and Asia, inhabiting the shallow still-water areas. It is a resistant and easily dispersed plant, characterized by fast growth within one seasonal growing cycle. It is a bio-mediator, a natural purifier of the water ecosystem, also functioning as nesting ground for fish and amphibians. Traditionally it had a diverse application, from medicine and nutrition to building.

Name of Material in the local and Latin language
Uskolisni rogoz, Typha angustifolia
Type of Material
Organic
Commonly Found Locations
Shallow waters, swamps, (artificial) ponds and lakes in Europe, Africa, North America, and Asia. In Serbia, mostly found in the Upper Danube area in Vojvodina.

Colour
Gradient from green to yellow
Hardness
Narrowleaf rush leaves are durable and are not vertically or horizontally breakable without cutting.
Solubility
Water insoluble, but when it encounters water, the seed coat immediately opens, and the seeds fall into it and are dispersed.
Chemical Composition
Narrowleaf rush is a monocotyledonous, semi-aquatic, rhizomatous plant, with long thin ribbon-like leaves (3-6 mm wide and up to 300 cm tall). Its taproot is strongly developed, with a hollow stem with a flower on top. It blossoms in July, August, and September.

Industrial and Crafts Applications
Narrowleaf rush is used for making materials that can be used for floor and wall covering, for basketry and shoe making. It can be either waved or braided, and its knot structure allows for an acupuncture massage of the body. Its leaves produce resin that is water-resistant and used as a bio-covering for barrels and fabric.
Historical or Cultural Uses
Historically, rush was used as the base material for creating floor and wall covering, bedding, baskets, and bags, and for shoe soles. Due to its properties, fast dispersal and growing, it has been an easily accessible and rather durable material, serving as a good hydro and thermal isolator. Depending on the type, it had a nutritive value as well, due to the high content of starch in its root, and its harvest season being during the autumn and sometimes winter months. Its growth has been encouraged around natural and artificial fishponds as it served as a bio-mediator, or water purifier. It has a wide use in traditional medicine, from remedying wounds and ulcers to being used as a diuretic and stomach-bug remedy. Extracts made from its roots are used in the treatment of whooping cough.
Environmental Impact
Narrowleaf rush plant is easily dispersed and fast growing, and it can quickly lead to overpopulating the areas of shallow waters. However, as it is a bio-mediator, it purifies the waters and allows for other inhabitants such as fish and amphibians to thrive. When used as a material, it leaves no negative environmental impact, as the plant is cut and not pulled from the roots, therefore allowing its regrowth, and the traditional crafts using it produce eco-friendly and biodegradable objects.
Innovative or Emerging Applications
The biomass of rush plant can be used as a feedstock for the production of bioplastic, nanocellulose, and other microbial materials. It is used for the extraction of coumarin – natural, aromatic secondary plant substance used in green and natural cosmetics production.

Extraction Methods
Harvesting – cutting of the plant 15 cm above its root
Processing Techniques
Commonly, rush plant is dried for two weeks before it is “flaked” and ready for weaving and braiding.
Sustainability and Environmental Considerations
Narrowleaf rush plant is self-grown and rarely cultivated; it grows in swamp conditions, and it is easily dispersed. Harvesting it only has a beneficial impact on the ecosystem, giving it a chance to be renewed by taking out the used bio-purifier from the water when it finishes its growing cycle for the year. When harvested manually, it is carbon negative.
Recycling and Waste Management
As it is a perennial plant, it is cut 15 cm above the root, and left to regrow in the new season. The cut leaves are used fully.

Interesting Facts or Historical Anecdotes
The rush plant family can be traced all the way back to the Cretaceous (144-66.4 million years ago). The craft of rush weaving and braiding is as dispersed as the plant is, and it had its role in the building and maintaining of homes. Its durability made it a good material for making shoe soles, and its accessibility in swamp areas made it widely used. Historically, this grass-like plant was used for making primarily floor coverings for floors made from mud bricks, i.e., for the homes of the non-wealthy population that could not afford rugs. The practice of rush weaving thrived well into the twentieth century, when the architectural and overall social paradigm changed. Today, the craft of weaving and braiding rush is almost extinct in Serbia, even though it allows for creating ecological and durable products – from shoes to furniture. With yet another twist, objects of this type are today almost considered luxury goods.
Regulations or Restrictions
In Serbia, harvesting of rush is partially regulated by the Institute for Nature Conservation of Vojvodina Province, by limiting the amount of rush that can be cut without endangering the shallow-water ecosystem.
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Supported by
  • Ministarstvo kulture