Sweet Flag, also known as calamus and various other names, (Acorus calamus) is a plant from the Acoraceae family, in the genus Acorus. It is a tall perennial wetland monocot with scented leaves and more strongly scented rhizomes, which have been used medicinally, for its odor, and as a psychotropic drug. Its Sanskrit name is vacha. Probably indigenous to India, Acorus calamus is now found across Europe, in southern Russia, northern Turkey, southern Siberia, China, Japan, Burma, Sri Lanka, Australia, as well as southern Canada and the northern USA, where it may be mistaken for the native Acorus americanus.
The morphological distinction between the Acorus species is made by the number of prominent leaf veins. Acorus calamus has a single prominent midvein and then on both sides slightly raised secondary veins (with a diameter less than half the midvein) and many fine tertiary veins. This makes it clearly distinct from Acorus americanus.
The leaves are between 0.7 and 1.7 cm wide, with average of 1 cm. The sympodial leaf of Acorus calamus is somewhat shorter than the vegetative leaves. The margin is curly-edged or undulate. The spadix, at the time of expansion, can reach a length between 4.9 and 8.9 cm (longer than A. americanus). The flowers are longer too, between 3 and 4 mm. Acorus calamus is infertile and shows an abortive ovary with a shriveled appearance.
one subspecies, Acorus calamus var. angustatus Besser, Synonyms: Acorus asiaticus, Acorus cochinchinensis, Acorus latifolius, Acorus rumphianus, Acorus spurius, Acorus triqueter, Acorus tatarinowii, Acorus terrestris, Orontium cochinchinense, Acorus calamus var. spurius, Acorus gramineus var. crassispadix.
Both triploid and tetraploid calamus contain asarone . Other phytochemicals include:
Calamus has been an item of trade in many cultures for thousands of years. Calamus has been used medicinally for a wide variety of ailments, and its smell makes calamus essential oil valued in the perfume industry.
In antiquity in the Orient and Egypt, the rhizome was thought to be a powerful aphrodisiac. In Europe Acorus calamus was often added to wine, and the root is also one of the possible ingredients of absinthe. Among the northern Native Americans, it is used both medicinally and as a stimulant; in addition, the root is thought to have been used as an entheogen among the northern Native Americans. In high doses, it is hallucinogenic. Acorus calamus shows neuroprotective effect against stroke and chemical induced neurodegeneration in rat. Specifically, it has protective effect against acrylamide induced neurotoxicity.
For the Penobscot this is a very important root. One story is that there was a sickness plaguing the people. A muskrat spirit came to a man in dream and told him that he was a root. He told the man where to find him. The man awoke, found the root, and made a medicine which cured the people. In Penobscot homes, the root was cut and hung up. Steaming it throughout the home is thought to cure sickness. While traveling, a piece of root was kept and chewed to ward off illness.
Teton-Dakota warriors chewed the root to a paste, which they rubbed on their faces. It prevented excitement and fear when facing an enemy.
The Ojibway make a tea by taking a piece of root and scalding it, then drinking the tea warm. Gargling the tea or chewing on a piece of root is also good for sore throat.
The Potawatomi powder the dried root and put up the nose to cure a runny nose.
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 .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. A homeopathic remedy is made from the roots It is used in the treatment of flatulence, dyspepsia, anorexia and disorders of the gall bladder.
The calamus has long been a symbol of love. The name is associated with a Greek myth: Kalamos, of the river-god Maeander, who loved Karpos, of Zephyrus and Chloris. When Karpos drowned, Kalamos was transformed into a reed, whose rustling in the wind was interpreted as a sigh of lamentation.
The plant was a favorite of Henry David Thoreau (who called it sweet flag), and also of Walt Whitman, who added a section called the "Calamus" poems, to the third edition of Leaves of Grass (1860). In the poems the calamus is used as a symbol of love, lust, and affection.
The name Sweet Flag refers to its sweet scent (it has been used as a strewing herb) and the wavy edges of the leaves which are supposed to resemble a fluttering flag.
In Japan, the plant is a symbol of the samurai's bravery because of its sharp sword-like leaves. Even now many families with young boys enjoy "Sweet Flag Bath (shōbu yu)" in the Boy's Festival (Tango no Sekku) on May 5. The legendary Japanese sword Kusanagi was said to resemble a calamus.
Etymology of calamusEdit
Cognates of the Latin word calamus are found in both Greek (kalamos, meaning "reed") and Sanskrit (kalama, meaning "reed" and "pen" as well as a sort of rice) — strong evidence that the word is older than all three languages and exists in their parent language, Proto-Indo European. The Arabic word qalam (meaning "pen") is likely to have been borrowed from one of these languages in antiquity, or directly from Indo-European itself.
From the Latin root "calamus", a number of modern English words arise:
- calamari, meaning "squid", via the Latin calamarium, "ink horn" or "pen case", as reeds were then used as writing implements;
- calumet, another name for the Native American peace pipe, which was often made from a hollow reed;
- shawm, a medieval oboe-like instrument (whose sound is produced by a vibrating reed mouthpiece);
- chalumeau register, the lower notes of a clarinet's range (another reed instrument).
Notes and referencesEdit
- ↑ Other names include cinnamon sedge, flagroot, gladdon, myrtle flag, myrtle grass, myrtle sedge, sweet cane, sweet myrtle, sweet root, sweet rush, and sweet sedge
- ↑ Ramawat, K. G., Ed. (2004). Biotechnology of Medicinal Plants: Vitalizer and Therapeutic Enfield, New Hampshire: Science Publishers, Inc. 5.
- ↑ Streloke, M. et al. (1989). "Vapor pressure and volatility of β-asarone, the main ingredient of an indigenous stored-product insecticide, Acorus calamus oil". Phytoparasitica 17 (4): 299–313.
- ↑ Paneru, R.B. et al. (1997). "Toxicity of Acorus calamus rhizome powder from Eastern Nepal to Sitophilus granarius (L.) and Sitophilus oryzae (L.) (Coleoptera, Curculionidae)". Crop Protection 16 (8): 759–763.
- ↑ Marongiu, Bruno et al. (2005). "Chemical Composition of the Essential Oil and Supercritical CO2 Extract of Commiphora myrrha (Nees) Engl. and of Acorus calamus L.". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 53 (20): 7939 – 7943.
- ↑ Raina, V. K. et al. (2003). "Essential oil composition of Acorus calamus L. from the lower region of the Himalayas". Flavour and Fragrance Journal 18 (1): 18–20.
- ↑ "Code of Federal regulations, title 21". http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=189.110.
- ↑ Shukla PK, Khanna VK, Ali MM, Maurya R, Khan MY, Srimal RC. "Neuroprotective effect of Acorus calamus against middle cerebral artery occlusion-induced ischaemia in rat" Hum Exp Toxicology (April 2006) 25(4):187-94. PMID: 16696294;Shukla PK, Khanna VK, Ali MM, Maurya RR, Handa SS, Srimal RC. "Protective effect of acorus calamus against acrylamide induced neurotoxicity" Phytother Res. (May 2002) 16(3):256-60. PMID: 12164272
- Proper Use of Acorus Calamus
- Family Araceae in L. Watson and M.J. Dallwitz (1992 onwards). The families of flowering plants: descriptions, illustrations, identification, information retrieval. http://delta-intkey.com
- Calamus Acorus Calamus Online Herb Guide
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