Economic Botany

, Volume 46, Issue 1, pp 64–71 | Cite as

A sweetmeat plant, a perfume plant and their weedy relatives: A chapter in the history ofCyperus esculentus L. andC. rotundus L.

  • Moshe Negbi


Tubers ofCyperus esculentus (tiger nuts) andC. rotundus were used in the ancient eastern Mediterranean as food, perfume and medicine. Tiger nuts that were consumed in Egypt, either boiled in beer, roasted or as sweets made of ground tubers with honey, were found in tombs from the 4th millenniumb.c. to the 5th centurya.d. C. rotundus tubers, a dietary staple in a Stone Age Egyptian community, were used much later in perfumes and medicine by the Egyptians, Mycenaeans and Greeks, and recorded by Theophrastus, Pliny and Dioscorides. An Egyptian preparation made ofCyperus tubers, other plant ingredients, honey and wine, described by Dioscorides, is similar to one in the Ebers papyri, demonstrating its continuity over 1600 years.Cyperus perfumes are mentioned in Mycenaean documents and by classical authors. Classical authors’ views on weeds, and whetherC. rotundus is described as a weed by Dioscorides, are reviewed. The domestication ofC. esculentus, and the evolution of both nutsedges towards weeds are discussed.

Key Words

Cyperus esculentus Cyperus rotundus nutsedges weeds 

Une plante alimentaire, une plante à parfum et les mauvaises herbes qui leur sont apparentées: un chapitre de l’histoire deCyperus esculentus L. etC. rotundus L.


Les tubercules deC. esculentus (amandes de terre) etC. rotundus ont été utilisés depuis l’antiquité en Méditerranée orientale dans le préparation d’aliments, de parfums et en médecine. Des amandes de terre, consommées en Egypte, bouillies dans de la bière, ou rôties et comme friandises, hâchées au miel, ont été découvertes dans des tombes datant du 4e millenaire av.j.c. Les tubercules deC. rotundus, aliment de base dans une communauté paléolithique en Egypte, ont été utilisés beacoup plus tard dans la préparation de parfums et en médecine par les Egyptiens, les Mycénniens et les Grecs. Théophraste, Pline et Dioscoride les mentionnent. Un plat égyptien décrit par Dioscoride et composé de tubercules deCyperus, de miel, de vin et d’autres ingredients végétaux se trouve être similaire a une recette des papyrus d’Ebers. Ceci met en evidence l’utilisation continue duCyperus pendant 1600 ans. Des documents mycéniens et des auteurs classiques le citent. Nous rapportons les connaissances des auteurs classiques sur les mauvaises herbes el la classification, par Dioscoride, deC. rotundus parmi les mauvaises herbes. Nous discutons de la domestication deC. esculentus et de l’évolution des deux souchets en mauvaises herbes.


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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Moshe Negbi
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Agricultural Botany, The Faculty of AgricultureThe Hebrew University of JerusalemRehovotIsrael
  2. 2.New York Botanical GardenBronx

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