Herb: Giant Reed

Latin name: Arundo donax

Synonyms: Arundo maxima

Family: Gramineae (Grass Family)

Medicinal use of Giant Reed:

The root is diaphoretic, diuretic, emollient and galactofuge. An infusion is said to stimulate menstrual discharge and diminish milk flow. A paste of the root is applied to the forehead to treat headaches. Isolated alkaloids have been experimentally shown to raise the blood pressure and contract the intestine and uterus. The rhizome or rootstock is used in the treatment of dropsy. Boiled in wine with honey, the root or rhizome has been used for treating cancer. The plant contains the alkaloid gramine. This is said to be a vasopressor, raising the blood pressure in dogs after small doses, causing a fall in larger doses. The stems have been used as splints for broken limbs.

Description of the plant:


6 m
(20 feet)


Habitat of the herb:

Ditches, riversides and marshland.

Edible parts of Giant Reed:

Rhizome - raw or cooked. The rhizome can be dried and ground into a powder to make bread, usually in conjunction with cereal flours. It can also be roasted or boiled. Leaves - cooked as a potherb. They are very bitter. The young shoots are used.

Other uses of the herb:

Brooms are made from the terminal panicles. Plants are grown alongside irrigation canals to check soil erosion. The plant can be grown as a windbreak screen. If cut down, the culms branch and in this form the plants can be used as a hedge. The leaves can be woven into mats etc, whilst the split and flattened stems are used to make screens, walls of houses etc. A yellow dye is obtained from the pollen. The stems of the plant have a multitude of applications. They are used as plant supports for vines and other climbing plants and to make clarinets, bag-pipes etc. They are also used as pipe stems, for roofing, to make screens, walking sticks and in basketry. They are used to make the reeds of clarinets and organ pipes. The stems can be harvested as desired at any time of the year. The fibre from the stems can be used to make a good quality paper. This plant is currently (1995) under investigation at Rosewarne in Cornwall as a potential commercial paper crop for small-scale industries in SW. England. Because of rather high yields from natural stands, the plant has been suggested as a source of biomass for energy production. Dry cane yields of ca 10, 15, and 20 tonnes per hectare were reported respectively from infertile, partly fertile and fertile soils. According to the phytomass files annual productivity ranges from 10 to 59 tonnes per hectare, the latter figure from Westlake's (1963) estimate of 57 - 59 tonnes. In addendum, Westlake cites evidence that Arundo donax can produce 40-75 MT/ha/yr. in warm temperate and tropical regions. Early vegetative growth has ME (metabolizable energy) of 2.22 megacalories/kg DM, while hay has an ME of only 1.37 (Gohl, 1981). Such annual productivity, if sustainable, makes this a notable energy candidate, especially when one considers the energy as a by-product, with leaf protein and potential pharmaceutical as primary products. A particular type of cellulose is obtained from the plant. In Italy, the plant is used in the manufacture of rayon.

Propagation of Giant Reed:

Seed - surface sow in a greenhouse in February to April. Stand the pots in about 3cm of water to keep the soil moist until the seed germinates. It usually germinates in 1 - 3 months at 15C. When large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Once they are 20cm or more tall, plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer. Division in spring. Whilst large divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions, we have found that it is best to pot the divisions up and keep them in light shade in a greenhouse until they are rooting away well. Stem cuttings, placed in water, root easily.

Cultivation of the herb:

Ditches, riversides and marshland.

Known hazards of Arundo donax:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.