Herb: Common Reed

Latin name: Phragmites australis

Synonyms: Arundo phragmites, Phragmites communis, Phragmites vulgaris

Family: Gramineae (Grass Family)

Medicinal use of Common Reed:

The leaves are used in the treatment of bronchitis and cholera, the ash of the leaves is applied to foul sores. A decoction of the flowers is used in the treatment of cholera and food poisoning. The ashes are styptic. The stem is antidote, antiemetic, antipyretic and refrigerant. The root is antiasthmatic, antiemetic, antipyretic, antitussive, depurative, diuretic, febrifuge, lithontripic, sedative, sialogogue and stomachic. It is taken internally in the treatment of diarrhoea, fevers, vomiting, coughs with thick dark phlegm, lung abscesses, urinary tract infections and food poisoning (especially from sea foods). Externally, it is mixed with gypsum and used to treat halitosis and toothache. The root is harvested in the autumn and juiced or dried for use in decoctions.

Description of the plant:


3.6 m
(12 feet)

July to

Habitat of the herb:

Shallow water and wet soil, avoiding extremely poor soils and very acid habitats.

Edible parts of Common Reed:

Root - raw or cooked like potatoes. It contains up to 5% sugar. The flavour and texture are best when the root is young and still growing. It can be dried, ground coarsely and used as a porridge. In Russia they are harvested and processed into starch. Young shoots - raw or cooked. They are best if used before the leaves form, when they are really delicious. They can be used like bamboo shoots. The partly unfolded leaves can be used as a potherb and the Japanese dry young leaves, grind them into a powder and mix them with cereal flour when making dumplings. The stems are reported to contain 4.8 g protein, 0.8 g fat, 90.0 g total carbohydrate, 41.2 g fiber, and 4.4 g ash. Seed - raw or cooked. It can be ground into a powder and used as a flour. The seed is rather small and difficult to remove from the husk but it is said to be very nutritious. A sugar is extracted from the stalks or wounded stems. A sweet liquorice-like taste, it can be eaten raw or cooked. The stems can be boiled in water and then the water boiled off in order to obtain the sugar. A sugary gum that exudes from the stems can be rolled into balls and eaten as sweets. A powder extracted from the dried stems can be moistened and roasted like marshmallow.

Other uses of the herb:

The common reed can provide a large quantity of biomass and this is used in a wide variety of ways as listed below. Annual yields of 40 - 63 tonnes per hectare have been reported. The plant is also converted into alcohol (for use as a fuel), is burnt as a fuel and is made into fertilizer. The plant is rich in pentosans and may be used for the production of furfural - the nodes and sheaths yield 6.6% whilst the underground parts over 13% of furfural. The pentosan content increases throughout the growing period and is maximum in the mature reed. The reed can be used also for the preparation of absolute alcohol, feed yeast and lactic acid. The stems are useful in the production of homogeneous boards. They can also be processed into a fine fibrous material suitable as a filler in upholstery. The stems have many uses. They are used for thatching roofs. It can last for 100 years. The stems and leaves are also used for building dwellings, lattices, fences, arrows by Indians, and for weaving mats, carrying nets, basket making, insulation, fuel, as a cork substitute etc. The stem contains over 50 percent cellulose and is useful in the manufacture of pulps for rayon and paper. The fibre from the leaves and stems is used for making paper. The fibre is 0.8 - 3.0 mm long and 5.0 - 30.5um in diameter. The stems and leaves are harvested in the summer, cut into usable pieces and soaked for 24 hours in clear water. They are then cooked for 2 hours with lye and beaten in a blender. The fibre makes a khaki paper. A fibre obtained from the plant is used for making string. The flowering stalks yield a fibre suitable for rope making. The leaves are used in basket making and for weaving mats etc. A light green dye is obtained from the flowers. Freshly cut shoots are a good green manure (Does this man as a soil mulch?). The inflorescences are used as brooms. The plant can be used as a cork substitute. No further details. The plant is mixed with mud to make a plaster for walls. Pens for writing on parchment were cut and fashioned from the thin stems of this reed, whilst the stems were also used as a linear measuring device. The plant has a very vigorous and running rootstock, it is useful for binding the soil along the sides of streams etc. It is planted for flood control since it stablizes the banks and gradually builds up soil depth, thus raising the level of the bank.

Propagation of Common Reed:

Seed - surface sow in spring in a light position. Keep the soil moist by emmersing the pot in 3cm of water. Germination usually takes place quite quickly. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and plant them out in the summer. Division in spring. Very simple, any part of the root that has a growth bud will grow into a new plant. Larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found that it is better to pot up the smaller divisions and grow them on in light shade in a cold frame until they are well established before planting them out in late spring or early summer.

Cultivation of the herb:

Shallow water and wet soil, avoiding extremely poor soils and very acid habitats.

Known hazards of Phragmites australis:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.