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Calamus

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  • Botanical: Acorus calamus
  • Family: Acoraceae
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Calamus

Botanical

Acorus calamus

Family

Acoraceae

Known as

Kalmus, Ackermann, Sweet flag, Sweet sedge,

Old Use

culinary; medicinal

Collection Times

July to August

Parts Used

leaves, roots

Medicinal

abdominal pain, acne, antiseptic, anxiety, anorexia, arthritis, bronchitis, back pain, bronchitis, cancer, colic, constipation, convulsions, coughs, cramps, cramps stomach, cystitis, depression, diarrhea, digestion, eczema, epilepsy, exhaustion, fatigue, flatulence, gallstones, gastritis, gastrointestinal, headache, high blood preasure, laxative, indigestion, infections intestinal, insomnia, irritability, joint inflammation, joint pain, nausea, neuralgia, neuritis, nervousness, pain relief, sore throat, stress relief, throat inflammation, gastric acidity, stomach cramps, throat infections

Heart & Circulation

circulation, hemostatic, high blood pressure

Hormone & Sexual Organs

cramps, menstruation promotion, menstrual problems

Infection & Inflammation

fever, flu, sinusitis, skin inflammation

Muscle & Joints

arthritis, joint inflammation, joint pain, knee pain, lower back pain (lumbago), rheumatism

Mind & Nerves

anxiety, anorexia, colic, epilepsy, fatigue (exhaustion), insomnia, irritability, loss of appetite, neuralgia, neurasthenia, neuritis, restlessness, stress relief

Respiratory System

asthma, bronchitis, cough, difficulty breathing, lung weakness, pharyngitis, respiratory, sore throat

Stomach & Intestinal

abdominal pain, bowel cleansing, cancer, constipation, cystitis, digestion, flatulence, gastritis, gastrointestinal, gastric acidity, gastric inflammation, laxative, nausea, stomach pain, stomach cramps, stomach complaints, stomach weakness, ulcers, vomiting

Skin & Hair

abscess, acne, burns, corns, skin damage

Properties

abortifacient, anesthetic, antirheumatic, aphrodisiac, carminative, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, febrifuge, sedative, stimulant, stomachic, tonic, vermifuge

Description

Acorus calamus Linn. is an herbaceous perennial with a rhizome that is long indefinite branched, smooth, pinkish or pale green. Its leaf scars are brown white and spongy and it possess slight slender roots. The leaves are few and distichously alternate whose size was found to be between 0.7 and 1.7 cm wide with average of 1 cm. The sympoidal leaf of Acorus calamus is shorter than that of the vegetative leaves. The flowers are 3 to 8 cm long, cylindrical, greenish brown and contains multitude of rounded spikes covering it. The fruits are found to be small and berry like with few seeds.

Properties & Uses

Sweet flag has a very long history of medicinal use in many herbal traditions. It is widely employed in modern herbal medicine as an aromatic stimulant and mild tonic. In Ayurveda it is highly valued as a rejuvenator for the brain and nervous system and as a remedy for digestive disorders. However, some care should be taken in its use since some forms of the plant might be carcinogenic - see the notes above on toxicity for more information. The root is anodyne, aphrodisiac, aromatic, carminative, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, febrifuge, hallucinogenic, hypotensive, sedative, stimulant, stomachic, mildly tonic and vermifuge. It is used internally in the treatment of digestive complaints, bronchitis, sinusitis etc. It is said to have wonderfully tonic powers of stimulating and normalizing the appetite. In small doses it reduces stomach acidity whilst larger doses increase stomach secretions and it is, therefore, recommended in the treatment of anorexia nervosa. However if the dose is too large it will cause nausea and vomiting. Sweet flag is also used externally to treat skin eruptions, rheumatic pains and neuralgia. An infusion of the root can bring about an abortion whilst chewing the root alleviates toothache. It is a folk remedy for arthritis, cancer, convulsions, diarrhoea, dyspepsia, epilepsy etc. Chewing the root is said to kill the taste for tobacco. Roots 2 - 3 years old are used since older roots tend to become tough and hollow. They are harvested in late autumn or early spring and are dried for later use. The dry root loses 70% of its weight, but has an improved smell and taste. It does, however, deteriorate if stored for too long. Caution is advised on the use of this root, especially in the form of the distilled essential oil, since large doses can cause mild hallucinations. See also the notes above on toxicity. A homeopathic remedy is made from the roots. It is used in the treatment of flatulence, dyspepsia, anorexia and disorders of the gall bladder. Bath oils containing calamus have caused redness of the skin (erythema) and dermatitis, particularly in hypersensitive individuals. 

Other Uses

The leaves are used in basket making or woven into mats. They have also been used as a thatch for roofs. An essential oil from the rhizome is used in perfumery and as a food flavouring. The oil is contained mainly in the outer skin of the root, it has a fragrance reminiscent of patchouli oil. The fresh roots yield about 1.5 - 3.5% essential oil, dried roots about 0.8%. Some plants from Japan have yielded 5% essential oil. The essential oil is also an insect repellent and insecticide. It is effective against houseflies. When added to rice being stored in granaries it has significantly reduced loss caused by insect damage because the oil in the root has sterilized the male rice weevils. An essential oil obtained from the leaves is used in perfumery and for making aromatic vinegars. The leaves and the root have a refreshing scent of cinnamon. All parts of plant can be dried and used to repel insects or to scent linen cupboards. They can also be burnt as an incense, whilst the whole plant was formerly used as a strewing herb. The growing plant is said to repel mosquitoes.

Cautions

The fresh root can be poisonous. When using the plant medicinally, the isolated essential oil should not be used. The essential oil in the roots of some populations of this plant contains the compound asarone. This has tranquillising and antibiotic activity, but is also potentially toxic and carcinogenic. It seems that these compounds are found in the triploid form of the species (found in Asia) whilst the diploid form (found in N. America and Siberia) is free of the compounds. However, the root (but not the isolated essential oil) has been used in India for thousands of years without reports of cancer which suggests that using the whole herb is completely safe, though more research is needed. Only roots free from or with a low content of beta asarone should be used in human herb therapy. Should be avoided in patients taking monoamine oxidase inhibitor antidepressants as possible side-effects.

Distribution

Europe, Asia and N. America. Naturalized in Britain

Constituents

Bitter Acorin, Akoretin (resin) essential oil, calamine-choline, trimethylamine, Kalmusgerbsäure, mucus, terpenes, Calamenol, palmitic

The leaves contain up to 20% starch, plus 1.5-3.5% volatile oil, including asarone and eugenol, as well as various tannins and bitter substances, including Acoron.
The fleshy root smells like camphor, and contains about 1.5-5% essential oil.