Straw consists of the dried stalks of plants, especially cereal grains. Although it is an agricultural byproduct, rather than a primary crop, it has a wide range of uses. Humans have been utilizing straw for thousands of years for everything from animal bedding to art, and it is produced in countries all over the world for a multitude of purposes. Consumers can purchase it or products made from it in all sorts of places, from feed stores to shops dedicated to high fashion designers.
Cereal grains are cultivated for their nutrient rich seeds, which are collected by cutting the grain once it has matured and threshing it to extract the usable seeds. Straw is the material left behind. Typically, the stalks are allowed to fully dry and then they are compacted into bales which can easily be transported to market. Straw may also be bundled into sheaves, especially if it is going to be woven or converted into thatching.
Around the house, straw can be used as a building material when mixed with earth and clay, and it has also been traditionally used as insulation in wood framed homes. It can also be used to create a thatched roof, and it can be woven into floor coverings and wall hangings. This material may also be braided into baskets and used to stuff bedding and pillows.
Straw hats are common in many parts of the world, and the fibers can also be used to make protective garments, or historically to line armor and harnesses for working animals. People have also traditionally used dried stalks as animal bedding, to keep hoofed animals from coming into direct contact with the floor, and to insulate stables. Higher grades can be used to supplement the diet of animals, especially in the winter when forage may not be readily available.
In erosion control, straw can be very useful. Mats can be stretched across areas prone to slides to help the soil stay in place, or it can be scattered on a muddy area to prevent topsoil runoff. Bales of straw have also been used as barriers to prevent flooding, or as temporary fences for livestock. A sturdy bale also makes a great archery target, or the stalks can be used to stuff figures for weapons practice, or for use as scarecrows. Many people have also traditionally made decorative crafts with straw, some of which can be quite beautiful.