Calamus (Acorus calamus)

Calamus, also known as Sweet Flag, Grass Myrtle, or Sweet Rush, is a perennial, aquatic reed like plant in the Acoraceae family. Despite it’s numerous common names suggesting so, it is neither a rush or a sedge. Found in abundance through swampy marshes, pond and stream edges, and other mesic environments throughout the Northern Hemisphere, Calamus is recognizable by it’s tall, sword like leaves and a rigid spadix that protrudes from the three sided, tangerine scented stalks at an angle, covered with small yellowish green summer flowers. There are no stems, as the leaves grow directly from the root-stalk and have wavy margins and a midrib. This spadix is what distinguishes it from the very similar looking, and very poisonous iris. A leaf-like spathe covers the flower spadix and looks and grows to a similar height as the leaves. It’s root is a rhizome that grows horizontally, creeping up to 5 feet in length. They can be cultivated very easily through root cuttings, and grow easily in non-draining planters or along pond edges, if you have a pond.

Parts Used: Rhizome

Medicinal Uses
Calamus root is great herb for the digestive system. It’s soothing, demulcent qualities combined with it’s carminative volatile oils and it’s bitter stimulating effects makes it a both an excellent tonic herb and remedy for gastrointestinal issues such as flatulence, indigestion, bloating, gastric ulcers, colic, dyspepsia, and stomach cramps. In addition, it is an anti-spasmodic, useful for relaxing the smoothing muscle tract of the digestive system. In Aryuvedic medicine, it’s valued as a rejuvenator for the brain and nervous system, and used as a remedy for upset digestion. Externally, it is used as a poultice on the forehead for headaches or on painful, arthritic joints. It can also be powdered and taken through the nose to clear nasal congestion and polyps, thought to directly revitalize prana. Calamus root has a close relative in China, Acorus gramineus, or Shi Chang Pu, that is used medicinally for similar conditions, and useful in clearing dampness of the spleen. In China, calamus is commonly used therapeutically to restore speech after a stroke, and to treat insanity, depression, and impaired consciousness. It is also known to be a diaphoretic and an emmenagogue.

Folk Uses
Sweet Flag is regarded as an aphrodisiac in India and Egypt, and has long been a symbol of love. The name is associated with a Greek myth: Kalamos, son of the river-god Maeander, who loved the youth Karpos. When Karpos drowned in a swimming race, Kalamos drowned themselves and was transformed into a reed, whose rustling in the wind was interpreted as a sigh of lamentation. In North America, the root of an american variety of calamus root was chewed for toothaches, and powdered and inhaled for congestion. Chewing the root can help quit smoking, as it tends to produce mild nausea exclusively in smokers. It can be used as a bath additive for tense nerves and insomnia, or for children with rickets. In Aryuvedic healing, it is thought to clear the subtle mental channels of toxins and obstructions. It is considered sattvic, and one of the best herbs for the mind, especially when combined with gotu kola. It also helps transmute sexual energy and increases mental focus. The leaf buds and inner stems of the plant are also a choice salad edible, brewed into teas, or used as a smudge; the roots are sometimes used to flavor alcohol or prepared as a candy. The powdered herb is though to make a good insecticide. Chewing the rootstock of the plant is known to occasionally cause mild visual hallucinations, altered depth perception and dilated pupils along with a feeling of calm, centering, introspection. You can read more about this at herbalist Jim McDonald’s Herbcraft Blog.

Flavor Profile and Energetics
Aromatic, pungent, bitter taste, astringent, slightly warming to heating

In small doses, calamus can reduce stomach acidity, where as in larger doses, can help increase deficient acid production in the stomach. An infusion of 2 teaspoons dried herb per cup of water, steeped for 10-15 minutes, taken a half an hour before meals. As a tincture, 2-4 ml three times a day. As a bath additive, 1 lb dried root per 5 quarts of water, steeped for 5 minutes in boiling water, then strained and added to the bath.

Calamus root combines well with ginger and wild yam for flatulence. For gastrointestinal issues, combine with meadowsweet and marshmallow. Combined with cardamom, it can aid digestion of dairy products.

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A close up of the tiny flowers on the Calamus spadix.

A close up of the tiny flowers on the Calamus spadix.