Cyperus is known in Chinese as xiangfu or xiangfuzi. The term xiang means fragrant, and usually is applied to strong and pleasant fragrances, such as those occurring in culinary spices, perfumes, and incenses. The character fu is the same as that used to describe aconite (fuzi); the term was likely used because the appearance of the cyperus rhizomes, the part used, reminded herbalists of the aconite roots. In much of the rest of the world, cyperus is referred to as nutgrass or purple nutsedge; the nut is the rhizome (or tuber), which forms rounded or elongated balls along a tangle of thin roots.
The plant is considered an invasive weed; it has been called "the world's worst weed." The plant requires sun and moist conditions, though it grows in sandy soil (one of the old Chinese names for it was shacao, meaning sand weed), as well as in loamy moist fields and in tropical rainforests. It has a vast growing range, crossing the globe and particularly noted in the Pacific Islands (where its leaves are used for weaving) as well as along coastal regions. It is especially prevalent in southern India, where its essential oil is used in perfumery. As an invasive weed, it is considered troublesome in 92 countries and adversely affects more than 50 crops, including sugar cane, corn, cotton, rice, and many vegetables. Cyperus grows rapidly and fills the soil with its tangle of roots and rhizomes; this one species (C. rotundus) can produce up to 40,000 kg/hectare of underground plant material.
The plant prefers light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It requires moist or wet soil.
Cyperus, like other plants, has numerous chemical constituents, many of which may show pharmacological activity, but the main active components appear to be the sesquiterpenes. These are aromatic, spicy tasting molecules. Among the main sesquiterpenes identified in cyperus rhizomes thus far are:
a-cyperone, ?-selinene, cyperene, cyperotundone, patchoulenone, sugeonol, kobusone, and isokobusone.
Cyperus also contains other terpenes, such as the commonly occurring plant component pinene (a monoterpene), and several derivatives of the sesquiterpenes, such as cyperol, isocyperol, and cyperone. These active constituents are found in the volatile oil of cyperus rhizomes, which makes up only about 0.5-1% of the dried rhizome; prolonged cooking of the herb will cause loss of some portion of these constituents. Their main pharmacological actions may be antispasmodic and analgesic effects.
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