Also called calamus or sweet flag, Acorus calamus is a tall perennial wetland monocot that belongs to the Acoraceae family. It is an herb and seasoning used traditionally in Chinese medicine and Ayurveda for its cognitive enhancing qualities. Calamus is cultivated in damp and marshy places. The large plant has sword-like leaves and a yellow-green color.
Other names for calamus include vacha (Sanskrit), bach (Hindi), sweet flag (English), buch (Unani), vasamber (Tamil), agar turki (Persian), shobu (Japanese), shui chang (Chinese), and kalmus (German), among other names.
The Tartars brought calamus to Europe during the thirteenth century. It is also an herb mentioned in the Bible’s book of Exodus. ‘Acorus’ was taken from the Greek term ‘acoron,’ which Dioscorides used. In turn, ‘acoron’ was taken from ‘coreon,’ which means ‘pupil’ as the plant was used in traditional medicine to treat eye inflammation.
The Hebrews utilized the oil – together with cinnamon, myrrh, and olive oils – in a sacred anointing at the Tabernacle. They also used calamus leaves in all houses of worship.
Calamus may have originated in India and has found its way across Europe, especially in southern Russia and southern Siberia. In other Asian territories, it is found in northern Asia Minor, Japan, China, Sri Lanka, and Burma. It also grows in the northern U.S.A., southern Canada, and Australia. Occasionally, calamus is used as a pond plant in horticulture.
However, care must be taken when using Acorus calamus as it has been determined in studies that supplementation may lead to intestinal tumors and organ damage, since calamus has ẞ-asarone – a carcinogen.
The part used for traditional medicinal purposes is the spicy and aromatic rhizome. Moreover, the dried and powdered rhizome – in very moderate doses – has been utilized as a nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger substitute.
The oil derived from calamus is beneficial to one’s health. Calamus oil is also valued in aromatherapy. It alleviates problems like loss of concentration and memory difficulties. It also stimulates the mind and body. If used correctly, calamus is non-toxic. Thus, it should be utilized under the supervision of a medical professional.
Some of calamus’ benefits include:
- It benefits the mind
- It helps relieve fever
- It helps relieve arthritis pain
- It promotes relaxation
- It can help in neuralgia
General Mental Health Used in aromatherapy, calamus oil provides benefits to the mind.
- It helps in memory retention
- It improves alertness, concentration, and mental focus. Calamus can be used when one needs to be focused and stay sharp.
- It alleviates tension, stress, and anxiety
- It allows blood flow to the brain, effectively eliminating dizziness. The user can experience steadiness and better balance.
- Calamus’ aroma lifts the spirits. It can promote positive feelings.
Fever Calamus can help relieve mild fever. Used in aromatherapy, the oil is diffused in the air of a room. Calamus alleviates mild fever symptoms and enables the person to get some rest.
Arthritis Calamus can help in arthritis, particularly rheumatoid arthritis. The calamus oil is added to a base oil before applying it to the pain site. The anti-inflammatory calamus reduces pain and redness on the joint.
Relaxation The essential oil of calamus can be used in a bath. In a bathtub filled with water, six to eight drops of calamus oil and a few drops of lavender oil are added. Such combination leads the person to feel sedated, as calamus has a tranquilizing effect.
Acorus calamus can also help provide relief from chronic back pain and it also alleviates mental stress and anxiety. A calamus bath can calm the mind and decrease negative feelings and irritation. Together with lavender oil, the traditional remedy takes away insomnia and induces sleep.
Neuralgia Calamus can help to relieve neuralgia, especially trigeminal neuralgia. Applying calamus oil in a base lessens inflammation in nearby tissues. As nerve pressure is relieved, the neuralgia also eases. Calamus also helps in diabetic neuropathy.
In Ayurveda, calamus, which has a heating energy, has a pungent and bitter taste. Its post digestion taste is pungent and it has subtle, sharp, and light qualities. It decreases the vata and pitta doshas, while it increases the kapha dosha. Calamus’ pharmacological action is antispasmodic, nervine, stomachic, sedative, emetic, expectorant, diuretic, and laxative.
Acorus calamus has been used for many years in Ayurveda as a nervous system rejuvenator for conditions like neurasthenia, hysteria, anxiety, and other nervous conditions. Calamus helps in conditions with excess vata and is known to improve memory and enhance awareness.