ancient egypt: history and culture
Ancient Egyptian plants: Sedges
Chufa sedge

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Sedge and bee     Sedges are grass-like plants which generally grow in wet ground, have triangular stems and inconspicuous flowers. The sedge was the symbol for Upper Egypt, while the bee stood for Lower Egypt.


gathering papyrus, Source:MFA     The Papyrus plant, mnH or wAD, lat. Cyperus papyrus was of great economic importance. In Egypt, the earliest water craft were made from it, and baskets and sandals [1] were woven from it. Its major cultural impact it gained through being used in the manufacture of papyrus which was for thousands of years the main writing material in Egypt and was exported all over the Roman empire. After the collapse of the Western empire in the fifth century Europe was cut of from its source of papyrus and reverted to using parchment.
    The papyrus plant disappeared from Egypt, but has survived in Nubia.
Papyrus     The root of the plant is edible:
They pull up from the fens the papyrus which grows every year, and the upper parts of it they cut off and turn to other uses, but that which is left below for about a cubit in length they eat or sell: and those who desire to have the papyrus at its very best bake it in an oven heated red-hot, and then eat it.
Herodotus Histories II
    The plant was thought to have been the first plant to grow on the primeval mound as it was emerging from the waters of Nun, while the lotus was first to emerge from the primeval waters themselves. In temples bundles of papyrus carved in stone held up the ceiling, which symbolized the sky.
    The papyrus, covering large expanses of the Nile delta, was the heraldic plant of Lower Egypt, just as the blue water lily symbolized Upper Egypt. The hieroglyph consisting of three, sometimes five, flowering papyrus plants growing out of the earth stood for the northern part of the country.[3]

Chufa sedge

    The chufa-sedge, also called tigernut, earth-almond etc., lat. Cyperus esculentus esculentus, is a plant with a single stem growing out of a tuber. The stem can reach a height of ninety centimetres and and has a triangular section. It was apparently cultivated for its tuber which has a sweet, nutty flavour and is rich in oils and minerals. They are ground into meal which is then sifted. A wall inscription in Rekhmire's tomb describes the preparation of tigernut bread:
Grind a quantity of tiger nuts in a mortar.
Sift the flour carefully.
To the tiger nuts add a bowl of honey and mix to a dough.
Transfer the dough to a shallow metal(?) vessel. Place on top of the fire and add a little fat. [Boil over a gentle fire until a firm paste is obtained. It must smell toasted, not burnt.]
[Cool and] shape into tall conical loaves.
Tomb of Rekhmire [2]
Preparing tigernut bread
Tomb of Rekhmire, TT 100

    Tiger nuts, waH, were not unimportant and are often mentioned among mortuary offerings. In the Admonitions of Ipuwer their destruction is bemoaned:
Destroyed are chufa, charcoal, blue plant dye, mAaw-wood, nwt-wood, brushwood, the work of craftsmen, ca[rob (?), g]um (?), the due deliveries of the palace.
Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website, R. Enmarch ed.: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften => 2. Reden und Dialoge => Der Dialog von Ipuwer mit dem Allherrn (die "Admonitions") => pLeiden I 344 Recto => Der Dialog von Ipuwer mit dem Allherrn = Admonitions

Picture sources:
[ ] Sedge and bee: Jon Bodsworth
[ ] Men gathering papyrus: mfa
[ ] Papyrus bloom: Jon Bodsworth
[1] ... the priests wear garments of linen only and sandals of papyrus, and any other garment they may not take nor other sandals... (Herodotus Histories II)
[2] Lise Manniche, An ancient Egyptian herbal, University of Texas Press, 1989, pp.42f.
[3] Shaw & Nicholson 1995, p.219

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