WHAT IS IT?
Acorus Calamus (also known as calamus, Vacha and sweet flag) is a reed plant native to higher altitude temperate and sub-temperate wetland-type regions throughout Asia, India, Europe, and Russia. It can now be found as a non-native plant in various regions throughout the world. Though the entire plant has the potential for healing, it is usually harvested for its roots, which produce a spicy, woody-smelling aromatic oil.
Calamus has medicinal uses dating back thousands of years, primarily with Chinese and Indian cultures have used the roots as a stimulant, relaxant, and tonic in various capacities. Ancient Chinese and Indian texts express that the plant was used to improve speech, cure throat problems and clarify the voice, or let the “inner spirit” out.
The plant is known as an effective stomach remedy, soothing upsets such as gas, nausea, ulcers, cramps, and lack of appetite. Calamus oil has long been used topically as an anti-inflammatory, a muscle relaxant, numbing agent, insecticide, antifungal, and antibacterial agent.
Some claim that Calamus is an effective treatment for diseases of the central nervous system as well as psychological and emotional problems like depression, anxiety, epilepsy, hysteria, diabetes, and insomnia.
Other medicinal applications of calamus include bronchitis, allergies, rheumatism and vascular disease (swelling). European cultures (back to ancient Roman and Greek times) and Indigenous tribes also likely used it as an aphrodisiac, an aperitif, and even a flavoring ingredient. Canadian trappers reportedly carried it to chew as a stimulant on long journeys (presumably having gleaned this information from Indigenous tribes).
HISTORY & REPUTATION
The leaves and roots of calamus contain beta-asarone, a psychoactive substance which is linked to LSD-like hallucinations and can cause vomiting and convulsions. Calamus supplements have been marketed as a hallucinogen and an ecstasy-like drug, but studies show that the beta-asarone in calamus oil could have carcinogenic properties, so the FDA and European Commission warn against ingesting the plant for any purpose.
While the oil appears to be safe and effective for occasional topical use, long-term use and high quantity ingestion of the plant is generally not recommended, in part because of the possible toxicity of beta-asarone. But not all plants have high levels of beta-asarone; generally, the content varies from 0-96%, with the very toxic varieties being only native to India. Most of the European and North American varieties of supplements are (allegedly) sold without the active ingredient, beta-asarone.
Given that it’s been used medicinally for thousands of years and there are many studies that show promising effects, calamus is clearly a useful therapeutic plant and so should not be disregarded. Some alternative and traditional healers do offer it for various therapeutic uses, and it is safe if ingested under the guidance of professionals. Furthermore, there are no side effects or negative health associations with this plant when it’s administered in the proper doses and does not contain beta-asarone.
Here are just a few of the hundreds of studies out there pointing to the (possible) therapeutic uses of calamus:
> A 2010 study suggests that that the plant may be effective in helping people (eg: diabetics) to manage blood sugar levels and resolve cardiovascular problems.
> A 2015 study points to the plant as a possible diuretic and suggests that it could be useful to help prevent the formation of kidney stones.
> A 2014 study on rats shows potential for the plant to heal wounds
> A 2005 study points to the potential for the plants to protect against free radicals
SIDE EFFECTS & WARNINGS
- Ingesting too much of the plant can cause vomiting
- Using it over a long period of time can damage the liver
- Do not use if you are pregnant
- Do not use in combination with Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)
- Do not use in combination with sedative medications that affect the central nervous system
- Calamus might decrease the effect of antacids and other stomach medicines
USER REPORTS & DISCUSSION
Note: This is a controversial substance with a wide array of experiences reported. The following briefs are based on consumer conversations and comments and are not to be considered complete or accurate information.
“I have been chewing it in small amounts (for long periods of time) a few times throughout the day for the past 4 days and it effectively dissolved the minor social anxiety. I’ve been aware of having for quite some time. It makes me psychically fearless, and so I think of it as my ‘psychically’.” ~ Xactoman
“I’m a website developer and it helped me to articulate my thoughts really well. My short-term memory skyrocketed which really helped with solving problems.” ~ cman9090
“This is a good quality product, just don’t use it. I’m only kidding… kind of. Calamus is a very powerful plant spirit and needs to be used with caution. Used in SMALL amounts, it is sattvic and normalizing. It can be useful for motion sickness and anxiety. Just err on the side of caution and use less than you think you need if you choose to use it.” ~ Amazon product comment
If the plant is raw and thought to contain beta-asarone (which is mostly the case with plants from India but not Europe or North America), use only under the discretion of a practitioner. Otherwise, start with very small quantities (eg: chewing a small amount of root) and work your way up. Suggested dose: capsules, 1/day; oil, 2-3 drops only, 3 times/day; teas, take 1 tsp to 1 tbsp and only 1 cup/day.