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Tigernut (Cyperus esculentus var. sativus)

 
Amedean Messan
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I am doing some research on this plant and I am interested in any information related to it.  I especially would appreciate additional information from you guys on cultivars, zoning, and growing experience.  Is this an annual or perennial (I believe perennial due to the tubers)?  This plant is not well known in the U.S. but is popular in Spain so I am trying to gather enough information to determine whether it is a viable permaculture plant here in zone 7-8 eastern region of the U.S. for animal/plant guilds - perhaps to supplement in rotational grazing pasture.  Here is some information I have gathered.

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The grass produces a crop similar to peanuts that you can harvest from the roots tubers that store the plants nutrients which can be dried (right picture).  Tigernuts have long been recognised for their health benefits as they are high in fibre, proteins, and natural sugars. They have a high content of soluble glucose and oleic acid. Along with a high energy content (starch, fats, sugars and proteins), they are rich in minerals such as phosphorous and potassium and in vitamins E and C.  It is believed that they help to prevent heart attacks, thrombosis and cancer especially of the colon.  Typically, 100g (0.27 lbs) tigernuts are 386 cal with 7% proteins, 26% fats (oils), 31% starch, 21% glucose. They contain 26% fibre of which 14% is non-soluble and 12% soluble and are naturally sweet.

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It is the chief ingredient in "horchata" (left picture), a healthy and popular beverage which is part of the Mediterranean diet.  I see this as a potential competitor for non-dairy milk alternatives.  Tigernuts are generally dried out to preserve them. This can take three months and they need turning over occasionally to ensure uniform drying. This can be kept for several years and can be reconstituted by soaking overnight.  I found a video below marketing the product which has a segment of how it is cultivated and made, mind you it is promotional so it leaves you with the inspiration as if they have a cure for aids, lol.  The soil they grew the tigernuts in was dead.  I don't see anything special about their soil for me not to grow it here - other then it is really sandy.

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Margie Nieuwkerk
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Location: Bulgaria, Zone 7/8
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That looks really interesting.  Looks like it's a perennial according to this link  http://www.nvsuk.org.uk/growing_show_vegetables_1/tiger_nuts.php

Ebay uk has them as fish bait.  I think I might order some to try. 
 
Paul Cereghino
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Class B noxious in WA, OR, CA, CO
http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=CYESS

Genus puts it with a bunch of wetland plants...  Given its origin, I wonder what the summer heat requirement is for production?
 
Margie Nieuwkerk
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seems to like it hot, as it was grown in florida, and it did mention in the information that it does not like shade, but does like moisture
 
Amedean Messan
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Yeah, I found out it is indeed a perennial, thanks.  I also heard it is a favorite among fisherman trying to catch carp.  Paul, your link is not working - but be sure not to confuse this with cyperus esculentus which is not the specific cultivated strain (var. sativus) and as I have read have some different characteristics.  But if it does grow fast then I see that as a bonus since it is an edible plant.  I was wondering about using this in pasture which could be a potentially large source of food for grazing pigs or I could dig them up to eat or make the drink.  The whole idea seems very promising as part of an animal/plant guild but I have absolutely no experience with it, nor do I know anyone who does.
 
Margie Nieuwkerk
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I know, I don't know anyone either, but I'm buying some and trying a small patch for next year to have a go.  Sounds like it could be good.
 
Jonathan Byron
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The feed stores in N. Florida carry that from time to time (dried 'nuts' are in the 20 gallon bulk bins among the clover seed) ... used to establish plots for wildlife.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I'm going to try to grow them. 

 
Amedean Messan
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Location: Melbourne FL, USA - Pine and Palmetto Flatland, Sandy and Acidic
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Hey Ludi, if you do follow through with that can you let me know (if any) what cultivar you settled on and a supplier.  I would love a followup on your experiences.
 
John Polk
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The exact species that you asked about is available from JL Hudson.

http://jlhudsonseeds.net/SeedlistCN-CZ.htm

Read his genus description as well as the variety description,  It has sowing/harvesting info, uses (modern&ancient) as well as a lot of useful data (including hog fodder).

I have dealt with him before, and he is very trustworthy.  Good company to support.  Be certain to request a catalog, as he has over 90 pages of mostly hard to find plants.
 
leigh gates
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This is one of the alternative crops I considered but was stopped by the "noxious weed" status here in WA state.  PLease keep posting y'all, I'm interested in experiences with it.  I'm considering using it in a closed system (recirculating) Aquaponics fish production.  Thanks
 
Amedean Messan
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I would love to analyze how it would grow in an aquaponics system.  It usually takes 8 months before harvest so it does put a burden on your production numbers.  I would not worry about it being a noxious weed as it is sterile unlike its relative which often is mistakenly compared.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I'll put them in my aquaponics system and let you know how they do! 

 
                      
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Interesting...never heard of tiger nuts before. Horchata down here (mexican version) is made with rice instead. Know if they make other goodies with these nuts?

Seems like all the vids info about growing them is geared towards machine harvesting.
Some good looking 'soil' they've got there too.

Hey Ludi do you have some? Or have a line on where to get them (local)?

ape99
 
Amedean Messan
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Location: Melbourne FL, USA - Pine and Palmetto Flatland, Sandy and Acidic
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The video is some kind of marketing gimmick -  that soil is dead to the world so I don't see what they mean by quality assurances, lol!  The video does have very important information on its processing though.  It actually sweetens when it is dried.  I read that the tigernut is grown in South America and that different regions produce different flavors (may be different cultivar) but I have not identified any cultivar as it is not a well known plant other than in parts of the Mediterranean and parts of Latin America. 
 
Brian Bales
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You had me at horchata. I ordered some and will try them this spring.
 
Brian Bales
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I ordered 1/4lb of these and they are pretty neat looking. I wonder if anyone has tried them as a lawn alternative? Seems like a real win win if I keep a patch of lawn but it too grows me a useful crop.
 
Amedean Messan
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Location: Melbourne FL, USA - Pine and Palmetto Flatland, Sandy and Acidic
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I was hoping you can share your experiences in the future because I know absolutely nobody who has worked with this plant.  It would be awesome if it could replace a lawn but I do not know how well it would establish.  I do like the idea of going outside and being able to eat grass, takes edible landscaping to a new extreme.
 
tel jetson
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I've got some experience with both the weedy version and the cultivated stuff.

weed: nutsedge is a pretty incredible plant.  the "nuts" are really small, but have a pleasant taste.  the plants are small, but I've seen roots from a single plant run at least five feet horizontally in loose soil.  the plants are relatively easy to remove, but the nuts are not, which accounts for the difficulty getting rid of it.  could easily replace a lawn.

chufa: bought 1/4 pound of tubers a few years back.  they're probably five times the size of the wild weedy tubers.  been growing it in gallon pots since then.  goes in the greenhouse over the winter, since it wouldn't be cold hardy here.  it hasn't really been thriving, but it's limping along.  should I ever get a larger greenhouse built, I think chufa will stay in there permanently.  horchata is roughly the best thing ever, but I haven't harvested any of the nuts yet in the interest of expanding my stock.  much less vigorous than the weedy stuff.  where I'm at, making a lawn out of this stuff would not work, but that might be an option someplace warmer.  chufa does like to stay wet, so it would do well in a soggy spot.

not a lot of information, but I hope it's at least mildly helpful.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I ordered my tubers from JL Hudson. 

We have some native or naturalized nutsedges that grow here in wet years, but I haven' tried to dig for their tubers. 
 
Amedean Messan
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I've got some experience with both the weedy version and the cultivated stuff.

weed: nutsedge is a pretty incredible plant.  the "nuts" are really small, but have a pleasant taste.  the plants are small, but I've seen roots from a single plant run at least five feet horizontally in loose soil.  the plants are relatively easy to remove, but the nuts are not, which accounts for the difficulty getting rid of it.  could easily replace a lawn.

chufa: bought 1/4 pound of tubers a few years back.  they're probably five times the size of the wild weedy tubers.  been growing it in gallon pots since then.  goes in the greenhouse over the winter, since it wouldn't be cold hardy here.  it hasn't really been thriving, but it's limping along.  should I ever get a larger greenhouse built, I think chufa will stay in there permanently.  horchata is roughly the best thing ever, but I haven't harvested any of the nuts yet in the interest of expanding my stock.  much less vigorous than the weedy stuff.  where I'm at, making a lawn out of this stuff would not work, but that might be an option someplace warmer.  chufa does like to stay wet, so it would do well in a soggy spot.

not a lot of information, but I hope it's at least mildly helpful.


Thanks so much for that much appreciated information.  I as well am in a zone 7/8 area so your incite is ideally suited for my area.  A few questions. Do you plant the tubers with good activation rates?  If they like to be wet, what do you feel about these in an aquaponics system, I mean are they fast growers so I would not have to wait an entire growing season?  Hell, I think aquaponics would solve the trouble of harvesting but I am worried of the time required to harvest.
 
Heda Ledus
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I'm abit confused why are people treating them as long-term annuals or perennials? The plant did originate as an annual but according to A History of World Agriculture it was a crop in short rotation during and after the flooding period of the Nile.

Eatyourgreens channel on youtube grow it as a short crop and so does a farm in Quebec (90 days)

I could easily see there being a benefit to a longer season but after a while wouldn't return diminish?
 
Tyler Ludens
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Should I plant my tubers in soil a net pot and submerge in shallow water in my aquaponics system?  Or what would you do to grow them aquaponically?

 
Jonathan 'yukkuri' Kame
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Ahipa wrote:
I'm abit confused why are people treating them as long-term annuals or perennials? The plant did originate as an annual but according to A History of World Agriculture it was a crop in short rotation during and after the flooding period of the Nile.

Eatyourgreens channel on youtube grow it as a short crop and so does a farm in Quebec (90 days)

I could easily see there being a benefit to a longer season but after a while wouldn't return diminish?


This question can be asked of so many perennials that are typically grown as annuals, sweet potato, tomato, peppers, etc.

Many of them are grown as annuals because they are tropical or subtropical, and won't survive temperate winters.  Others may produce better as annuals.  In some cases, it may just fit better with the industrial agricultural model to have a concentrated harvest period to efficiently use machinery or migrant labor.  

Growing things as perennials, contrary to standard practice, may sacrifice some productivity in terms of primary product - but there are also secondary & tertiary yields that may take precedence depending on needs of the system - soil conservation, reduced need for labor in sowing, food security, resilience, longer harvest window, emergency caloric storages, ground cover, bee or animal forages, green mulch, carbon fixation, aesthetic value, biodiversity, soil conditioning, etc., etc.  It must be stressed that needs of a primary producer may be very different than those of a small-scale homesteader.  

In making a transition to a more permanent agriculture, I suppose we are in a long-haul process of trial-and-error.  Some of the plants that have been bred for annual agriculture may need to be adapted back towards perennial culture.  Some may prove worthwhile in some systems, others may be discovered to work best in less-destructive forms of annual agriculture, such as no-dig annual polycultures, intercropped with perennial species.  With a species that has been adapted to annual culture, it may be possible to re-naturalize the species so it is self-sustaining in a stable system, rather than needing constant inputs of labor, water & soil fertility.  That would be worthwhile in some systems, even if primary yield is significantly decreased.  

Sometimes those of us experimenting with the edges may have a tendency to fall prey to perennial idealism, cramming as many species of exotic perennials as possible into backyard systems.  But if you compare the caloric yield-per-acre of of annual potato culture with the caloric yield of perennial vegetables such as artichokes or asparagus, I conclude that annuals will continue to have an important place in my garden.  Comparing apples to oranges, but an important comparison when we are not looking at permaculture through wild rose-colored glasses.  




 
Amedean Messan
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Hey Ludi, as far as growing in aquaponics, as far as I know you will be the first.  I am a little worried that it may be getting late in the season to expect much unless you somehow keep them warm enough.  I found a potentially good cultivar for my area in NC.  The company claims that their strain is better acclimated for this area than the Spanish variety.  They are sold out unfortunantly but as soon as they have stock I am going to buy some.  It is ridiculously cheap!

http://www.cypruskneechufa.com/index.html
 
Tyler Ludens
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I've decided to try growing them in a net pot in my half barrel beds. We're still getting some warm days and not too cold nights, so I think if I can get them started in pots which I can move into a protected spot when frost is forecast, I can grow them through the winter for a good head start on next year's growing season.

Thank you for that link!

 
William Bronson
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How did this plant work out for those who tried growing it?
 
Shawn Harper
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I also would like to know how it worked for others. I ordered 12oz of these and am doing a trial in my climate this year.
 
Tyler Ludens
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If I ever planted them they must have died, but I don't remember. I had a bunch of health problems that derailed my experiments, so I've pretty much started over with everything in the past couple years. So maybe I'll try again with these.
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