Cough Grass Agropyron repens, Poaceae

Botanical synonyms: Elytrigia repens, Triticum repens

Common names: Couchgrass, Quackgrass, Doggrass, Twitchgrass, Wheatgrass

Habitat, ecology and distribution: Couch grass is a weedy species of Eurasian grass that has naturalized almost everywhere in North America except for the Gulf states of Florida and Texas. It is the bane of farmers, invading fields and pastures, producing chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants, while growing itself at a rate of up to 3 meters per year. It is most commonly found in disturbed sites, along roadsides, abandoned areas, beaches, farms, gardens and lawns. Couchgrass is an important habitat for small rodents, birds and waterfowl. It is often crossed with other Agropryon spp. to create hybrids for grazing. Recently these hybrids have been used to revegetate mine tailings in Nova Scotia.

Part used: fresh rhizome, recently dried rhizome

History: The genus name Agropyron comes from the Greek agros (field), and puros (wheat). Its common name ‘couch’ from the Anglo-Saxon civice, meaning ‘vivacious.’ Despite being a troublesome weed in North America, the hay is widely used as a fodder in Europe and Asia, where even the rhizome is used as an emergency food in times of scarcity. Grieve states that Dioscorides mentioned it as a useful remedy in “…suppression of urine and stone in the bladder,” an indication that was similarly found in the writings of Pliny. Couch-grass rhizome was at one time popular in Europe as a decoction taken in early spring to purify the blood. Culpepper states that its other common name of Dog grass is given because sick dogs will chew and swallow the grass to induce vomiting. Culpepper closes his comments on Couch grass saying that despite being a nuisance to gardeners, “…a physician holds half an acre of them to be worth five acres of carrots twice told over.”[1]

Couch grass is used for a sore back, painful urination, gravel, and discharge of mucus.[2],[3] It has been used to reduce blood cholesterol, diabetes, chronic skin disease, and liver ailments.[4],[5] It has been listed in the herbals of Gerard (1597), Culpepper (1697), James (1743) and throughout the Eclectic era.[6] The Cherokee and Iroquois used the plant for “gravel” and worms, among several applications.[7]

Constituents: Couch grass has a variety of interesting constituents, some of which can be identified when tasting its sweet, licorice-tasting rhizome. The carbohydrates include simple sugars like fructose and glucose, as well as inositol, mannitol, pectin, and most importantly a mucilage that comprises upwards of 10% of the plant. The characteristic taste is most likely due to its volatile oils, which are stated to be either agropyrene (95%), or a mixture of monoterpenes including carvacrol, anethole, carvone, thymol, menthol, and menthone, as well as cymene and three sesquiterpenes. Couch grass also contains a variety of glycosides including flavonoids (e.g. tricin), saponins, cyanogenetic glycosides and the phenolic glycoside vanillin. Couch grass is high in minerals such as calcium, potassium and phosphorus. The aerial parts are stated to be high in protein, on par with alfalfa.[8],[9],[10],[11]

Medical Research: There is almost no medical research on Couch grass, despite its popularity as a traditional remedy for urinary tract problems. Newall et al. report diuretic and sedative properties in rats and mice, and a broad spectrum antibiotic activity for its volatile oil agropyrene and its oxidative derivative.[12]

This herb’s primary action is on the urinary tract. It has a soothing, diuretic influence, greatly increasing the flow of the watery portion of the urine without increasing actual renal secretion. This gives couch grass a urinary demulcent quality. It is most often applied when the urine’s specific gravity is too high, causing irritation of kidney and/or bladder. It is also specific for mucus discharge in the urinary tract. It is therefore used for inflammation, cystitis, pyelitis, incipient nephritis, prostatitis and excessive mucus or blood in urine.[13],[14] Couch grass has been reported to have broad antibiotic activities and a sedative effect on mice.[15]

Toxicity: Newall et al. report that the flavonoids constituents may be phytotoxic.[16]

Herbal action: diuretic, demulcent, antilithic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, hepatic

Indications: cystitis, urethritis, prostatitis, benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), renal calculi, renal backache, gout, arthritis, prostatic adenoma

Contraindications and cautions: none

Medicinal uses: Couch grass is an excellent diuretic, admirably suited to any kind of irritability of the bladder, decreasing frequency, burning sensations and painful urination. It is an important and gentle remedy in cystitis and chronic urinary irritability, praised by the Eclectics in “…incipient nephritis, pyelitis and other catarrhal and purulent urinary affections”.[17] In pregnancy it is a safe remedy for chronic cystitis. It was once considered an important adjunct in the treatment of sexually transmitted infections, and is equally useful in men as for women. It Is indicated in chronic prostatitis and mentioned by Weiss in prostatic adenoma.[18] The traditional use of Couch grass as a spring cleanse suggests a broader value for congestive conditions generally, gently acting upon the kidneys to break up stones and discharge metabolic wastes. Couch grass is also considered an important remedy in the treatment of gout and arthritis, although it cannot be considered a powerful one. Gerard states that Couch grass “…openeth the stoppings of the liver and veins without any manifest heat.” It is recommended by the Dutch physician Hermann Boerhaave in obstruction of the viscera, particularly in cases of “…scirrhous liver and jaundice”.[19]

 Energetics: Other; Holmes lists couch grass as a bit sweet and bland, cold, and moist, with a secondary quality of nourishing, stimulating, decongesting, softening and dissolving sinking movement. Couch grass enters the Kidney, Bladder, Liver and Triple Heater meridians while influencing the bladder, kidneys, intestines, lymphatic system and skin. The organism is fluid.[20] Tierra describes couch grass as sweet, and cool, entering the bladder, lung and small intestines.[21]

Flower Essence: is for those who find themselves tenaciously holding on to old belief systems. Stubborn to a fault, they will twist their fears of change into a battle of egos. Then come the lower back pains and frequent urination that accompanies resistance to change. (Prairie Deva)

Useful for people that need to slow down and take it easy. Used to take a step forward and for alcoholics. (Olive)

This essence is for people that have behaved badly and others have to “clean up” the mess. (Miriana)

Pharmacy and dosage:

•Fresh Plant Tincture: fresh rhizome, 1:2, 95% alcohol, 20-60 gtt

•Dry Plant Tincture: recently dried rhizome, 1:5, 25%, 2-5 mL

•Infusion: finely chopped fresh rhizome, 1:5, 60-120 mL

•Decoction: recently dried rhizome, 1:20, 60-120 mL



[1] Grieve, Maude. 1971. A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publications

[2]. Ellingwood, F., American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy, Ibid.

[3]. Felter, H.W. and Lloyd, J.U., King’s American Dispensatory, Ibid.

[4]. Leung, A.Y., Encyclopedia of common natural ingredients used in food, drugs and cosmetics, John Wiley & Sons Inc., New York, 1980, p.158-159

[5]. Grieve, M., A Modern Herbal, Jonathan Cape, London, 1931, p.370-371.

[6]. Crellin, J.K. and Philpott, J., Herbal Medicine: Past and Present (Vol. II), Duke University Press, London, 1990, p.178-180.

[7]. Moerman, D.E., Medicinal Plants of Native America, University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology, Technical Reports, Number 19, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1986, Vol.1, p.23.

[8] Newall, Carol A., Linda A. Anderson and J.D. Phillipson. 1996. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London: The Pharmaceutical Press

[9] Duke, James. 2002. Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. Agricultural Research Center, USDA. Available from:

[10]. Felter, H.W. and Lloyd, J.U., King’s American Dispensatory (18th ed., 3rd ed, 1898), Repr. Eclectic Medical Publications, Portland OR, 1983. Vol. 2, p.2000.

[11]. Leung, A.Y., Encyclopedia of common natural ingredients used in food, drugs and cosmetics, John Wiley & Sons Inc., New York, 1980, p.158-159.

[12] Newall, Carol A., Linda A. Anderson and J.D. Phillipson. 1996. ibid.

[13]. Ellingwood, F., American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy, Eclectic Medical Publication, Portland OR, 1898 (Repr. 1983). p.430.

[14]. Felter, H.W. and Lloyd, J.U., King’s American Dispensatory, Ibid.

[15]. Leung, A.Y., Ibid.

[16] Newall, Carol A., Linda A, ibid.

[17] Felter, HW and JU Lloyd. 1893. King’s American Dispensatory. Digitized version available from

[18] Weiss, Rudolf. 1988. Herbal Medicine. Translated by A.R. Meuss. Beaconsfield, England: Beaconsfield Publishers

[19] Grieve, Maude. 1971. ibid.

[20]. Holmes, P., The Energetics of Western Herbs (2 vols.), Artemis Press, Boulder CO, 1989, p.148-149.

[21]. Tierra, M., Planetary Herbology, Lotus Press, Santa Fe, NM, 1988, p.222-223.