Calamus – Application
Calamus (Acorus calamus, Acoraceae) rhizome, consumed widely in the ancient world, is restricted by the US Food and Drug Administration due to its beta-asarone, a known carcinogenic content.1,2 There are rhizomes that are beta-asarone free, but they have been hard to certify as such. Traditional applications include treatment for eye diseases, fevers (typhoid), vertigo, dysentery, and nervous issues. In the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, calamus treatments include gastritis, gastric ulcer, intestinal colic, anorexia, and chronic dyspepsia.1 In Turkey and India, the candied rhizome is consumed for coughs, bronchitis, and indigestion. Historically, the dried rhizomes were included as ingredients in bitters and vermouths, and the essential oil in liqueurs and sweets.2
The calamus (A. americanus) variety found in the Americas has been chewed (dried rhizomes) in sweat lodges and pow-wows to help numb vocal cords alleviating the hoarseness often experienced in long ceremonies.3 A small piece of the rhizome can be chewed or even just held in the mouth allowing saliva to increase. Chewing the rhizome also allows for increased range and centering the singer’s energy. Calamus rhizome is also thought to increase stamina. The rhizome was used in much the same way as coca (Erythroxylum coca, Erythroxylaceae) leaves in the Andes as a stimulant, to allay hunger. and to boost stamina. The plant seems to have been cultivated along travel routes in North America, perhaps to aid in these applications.
While calamus can also stimulate attention, it is also considered a relaxant. In this harmonizing effect, it increases “the expression of the vital force, while [relaxing] resistance to that expression.” Culpepper stated that it “strengthens the stomach and head” and it was used for conditions related to nervousness and anxiety.
Ayurvedic medicine has used it for thousands of years as a brain and nervous system rejuvenative.4 It is said to sharpen memory, enhance awareness, and aid in cerebral circulation, as well as clear toxins and obstructions from the subtle channels. Ayurvedic practitioners consider calamus to facilitate vacha (speaking) and prescribe it to promote self-expression. Calamus rhizome is also said to promote sexual energy and increase kundalini. Therapeutic actions include expectorant, decongestant, stimulant, and antispasmodic. Calamus has been used in cases of asthma, neuralgia, shock, epilepsy, coma, deafness, and loss of memory. A paste can be applied externally to arthritic joints and to the forehead for headaches to relieve pain. According to Frawley and Lad, calamus is considered one of the best herbs for nasal applications for nasal congestion and for increasing prana.
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1Lawless J. The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils. San Francisco, CA: Conari Press; 2013.
2Tucker AO, Debaggio T. The Encyclopedia of Herbs – A Comprehensive Reference to Herbs of Flavor and Fragrance. 2nd ed. Portland, OR: Timber Press,;2009.
3McDonald J. Sweet flag/bitterroot. Jim McDonald Herbalist website. Accessed April 21, 2021. https://www.herbcraft.org/calamus.html.
4Frawley D, Lad V. The Yoga of Herbs – An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press; 1986.