Couchgrass

(Agropyron repens) A far-creeping and extremely tenacious weed, the despair of any gardener unlucky to get it in his patch. The answer, so it is claimed, is to sow turnip seed thickly in the infested part of the garden; the couch will disappear (Boland & Boland). But that is a question that has occupied the minds and ingenuity of gardeners for centuries. One answer, from the 10th century collection known as the Geopontica, claims that to get rid of "Dog's-tooth grass" one had to plough it up in May, let it dry, and take it away when the moon is 16 days old, in other words, just at the full, "for the antipathy (of the moon for this weed) will contribute towards preventing it growing up again" (Rose).

It did have its uses, for the dried rhizome, in infusion or decoction, has been used medicinally for centuries, for the treatment of kidney and bladder complaints, including cystitis (V G Hatfield), and also for skin eruptions and rheumatic complaints (Fluck). And this is the grass that dogs most often eat when they feel in need of a tonic (Page. 1978).

Most of the many names given to couch stem from OE cwic, alive, an appropriate naming. It comes in many forms - couch itself is a variant of Quitch, or Squitch, and this varies through such forms as Quick, Quack, Twitch, Whick and so on. The Scottish word Kett summarizes the feeling of detestation that any gardener has for the grass. It apparently means filth. Yawl, from the Isles of Scilly, expressesd the same kind of anger, for this is the Old Cornish dyawl, devil. Rack is an old Suffolk name meaning weeds or rubbish. One name, though, is out of this sequence -Grandmother Grass, which is from a children's game that involves cutting the head of a piece of the grass, and sticking it in another head, still on its stem. A flip of the hand holding the stem, and "Grandmother, grandmother, jump out of bed" is recited as the first head springs out (Mabey. 1998).

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