SWEET FLAG ROOT

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Herbal Monograph

Herb: SWEET FLAG ROOT (Acorus calamus and spp.; Araceae) 

Other Names:  calamus  (1);    sweet sedge, sweet root, sweet cane, gladdon, myrtle sedge, cinnamon sedge.    (2);   grass myrtle, myrtle flag, sweet grass, sweet myrtle, sweet rush   (13)

Character/Energetics:  acrid, slightly warm, aromatic  (6)

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected:    heart, liver, spleen  (6);   gastro-intestinal tract  (8)

Tissues:  plasma, muscle, fat, marrow and nerve, reproductive   (40)

Systems:  nervous, respiratory, digestive, circulatory, reproductive   (40)

Part(s) used:    rhizomes (6);  rootstock   (13)

Identification & Harvesting:    Green flowers form a tight, slender, conical spadix within a shielding leaf-wrap.  Bears no fruit;  propagates from the rhizome.  Grows 2′-3′ high;  triangular stem sprouts from horizontal, round root-stock thumb-thick.  Upper shoot forms the grooved flower sheath.  Leaves are oblong, sword-shaped and arranged in two rows.  Leaves have no stems.  Rhizome is intensely aromatic and tastes tangy, pungent and bitter.  Grows all over the world.    (2)

The rhizome should be harvested between September and October. A hook may be needed to extract it from muddy soil. Free the rhizome from leaves and root and clean it thoroughly. Halve it along its length and dry it in the shade.  (8)

Sweet flag is a perennial plant that grows more or less abundantly throughout the northern hemisphere, inhabiting pond edges, marshes, swamps, and the banks of rivers and streams….  (13)

Rhizome about 3/4 inch in diameter, pale fawn-colored longitudinally, wrinkled, with numerous oblique transverse leaf scars above, crowded in the part near the stem with small circular root scars beneath.  Fracture whitish, short, and finely porous, with scattered woody bundles visible when the section is wetted.  Tastes aromatic, pungent, and bitter.  Odor is sweet and aromatic.  The peeled rhizome is usually angular and often split, and is less aromatic.  Grows freely on the banks of rivers in England.    (57)

Active Constituents:    Volatile oils, the chief of which are highly dependent upon strain (di-, tri- or tetraploid strains):  beta-asarone (cis-isoasarone), alpha- and gamma-asarone, beta-gurjuns, acorone (bitter);  ZZ-Deca-4,7-dienal (odor-bearing).    (2); essential oil, amino acid, organic acid, sugars (6); 

mucilage, up to 3% volatile oil, bitter principles, glycoside, tannin  (8)

Actions:    Aromatic, bitter, appetite stimulant, stomach tonic, spasmolytic, carminative, sedative, and     hyperemic.    (2);  stimulant, carminative, expectorant, emetic (6);   carminative, demulcent,     anti-spasmodic  (8);  carminative,  diaphoretic, emmenagogue, febrifuge, sedative, stomachic,     aphrodisiac  (13);  carminative, antispasmodic, promotes sweating   (15);  stimulant,     rejuvenative, expectorant, decongestant, nervine, antispasmodic, emetic   (40);  carminative,     tonic, stimulant  (50)

Aromatic, carminative, stomachic.    (57)

Conditions and Uses:    Used for dyspeptic disorders, gastritis, ulcers.  Used externally for rheumatism, gum disease, angina.    (2)

It clears nervous tension and dampness of the spleen and stomach, aids digestion, treats dyspepsia and hyperacidity, and regulates gastrointestinal fermentation. It effectively treats poor appetite and gastrointestinal distention. Sweet flag is highly regarded in Ayurvedic medicine as an herb that promotes wisdom by improving mental focus. In China it is considered a primary herb for restoring the power of speech after a stroke. They also use it to treat insanity, depression and impaired consciousness. In Ayurvedic medicine, the combination of calamus and gotu kola is a universal tonic for the mind and the nervous system; it increases memory and concentration. (6)

Sweet flag combines demulcent effects of the mucilage with the carminative effect of the volatile oil and the stimulating effect of the bitters. It is thus an excellent tonic for the whole gastro-intestinal tract. It may be used in dyspepsia of all kinds, in gastritis and gastric ulcers. It will stimulate a flagging appetite and help to ease exhaustion and weakness when there is digestive involvement. It may be considered a specific in colic due to flatulence.  (8)

Sweet flag is particularly known for its beneficial effects on the stomach. It stimulates appetite and helps to relieve acute and chronic dyspepsia, gastritis, and hyperacidity. Chewing the root is also said to stop pyrosis, the discharge of an acrid liquid from the stomach into the throat. For smokers, however, chewing the dried root tends to cause mild nausea, a property that makes sweet flag useful for breaking the smoking habit.  (13)

Indications: colds, cough, asthma, sinus headaches, sinusitis, arthritis, epilepsy, shock, coma, loss of memory, deafness, hysteria, neuralgia  (40)

(Sweet flag) improves the gastric juice and sourness of the stomach; also used for chlorosis, scurvy, gout and especially in fevers. Regularly taken it will often prevent the returning of intermittent fever in marshy region…most valuable ingredient for various stomach troubles. (50)

Useful in flatulence, wind, colic, ague, and dyspepsia, etc.  Often added to tonic medicines.  May be chewed in dyspepsia, or an infusion of an ounce to a pint of boiling water may be taken freely in half-cup doses.    (57)

Combinations: In Ayurvedic medicine, the combination of sweet flag and gotu kola is a universal tonic for the mind and the nervous system; it increases memory and concentration. Combined with cardamon, it helps the digestion of dairy products. (6)

In flatulent colic it combines well with ginger and wild yam. In gastric conditions it is best combined with meadowsweet and marshmallow.   (8)

To regulate blood sugar levels, tone the digestive system with an infusion of mixed herbs:  1 part dandelion root, 1 part calamus, 1 part gentian, 1/4 part ginger, 1/4 part cinnamon.  Simmer 1 oz. in 1 pint water for 20 min.  Strain and take two tbsp. immediately before meals and one hour before bed on an empty stomach.    (14)

It is sattvic and one of the best herbs for the mind, along with brahmi (gotu kola) for which purposes it can be combined.  (40)

SWEET FLAG ROOT (Acorus calamus and spp.; Araceae)

Precautions:    No known hazards or side effects with designated dosages of the triploid strain (European origin) with 15% beta-asarone;  however, malignant tumors appeared in rats that received oils from tetraploid strain (Indian Kalmus) with 80% beta-asarone over an extended period.    (2); Avoid during pregnancy   (6);  Preparations containing beta-asarone are restricted in the U.S.  (15); Bleeding disorders including epistaxis, bleeding hemorrhoids  (50)    Contains tyramine, which interacts with MAOI antidepressants to create serious side effects.    (1b)

Tincturing Process: Vita Mix: dry root pulverizes nicely. Fill to blades’ lever in container. Process: 90        seconds forward; 45 seconds reverse. Utilize approximately 420 grams dry root per        2-qt mason jar.  (1);  50-65% alcohol   (10)

                    Fresh 1 oz herb:2 oz (60%) alcohol–Dry 1 oz herb:5 oz (60%) alcohol   (11)

Applications: standard infusion or 3‑9 gms.; tincture, 10‑30 drops    (6)

          Infusion:  pour a cup of boiling water onto 2 tsp. of the dried herb and leave to infuse 

10-15 minutes. Drink a cup half-hour before meals.

                     Tincture:  take 2-4 ml of the tincture 3x daily.  (8)  

        Decoction of the rootstock makes a good bath additive for insomnia and tense nerves;               it has also been used in baths for children with scrofula or rickets.

        Infusion: steep 1 tsp. rootstock in 1/2 cup water for 5 minutes. Take 1 cup daily.

        Decoction: Add 1 tbsp. dried rootstock to 1 cup simmering water and boil briefly. 

Take 1 cup daily.

        Tincture:  Take 10 drops, 3x daily.

        Oil: Take 2 to 3 drops, 3x daily.

        Bath Additive:  Add 1 lb. dried rootstock to 5 qt. water; bring to a boil, then steep for 

      5 minutes and strain. Add to bath water.   (13)

Sweet flag can be applied externally as a paste on the forehead for headaches or on painful arthritic joints. It is perhaps the best herb for nasal administration, for nasal congestion and nasal polyps, and it directly revitalizes Prana. In large doses it is an emetic. To counter its emetic properties for general usage, it can be taken with equal amounts of fresh ginger, 2 grams each per cup of water, with a little honey.

The powder taken nasally, in small doses, is also a simple and effective restorative to those in shock or coma.   (40)

Divination:      

Dosage: standard infusion or 3‑9 gms.; tincture, 10‑30 drops    (6)

Infusion:  pour a cup of boiling water onto 2 tsp. of the dried herb and leave to infuse 10-     15 minutes. Drink a cup half-hour before meals.

              Tincture:  take 2-4 ml of the tincture 3x daily.  (8)  

Infusion: steep 1 tsp. rootstock in 1/2 cup water for 5 minutes. Take 1 cup daily.

Decoction: Add 1 tbsp. dried rootstock to 1 cup simmering water and boil briefly. 

Take 1 cup daily.

Tincture:  Take 10 drops, 3x daily.

Oil: Take 2 to 3 drops, 3x daily. (13)

An infusion of an ounce to a pint of boiling water may be taken freely in half-cup doses.  Liquid extract dose, 15-60 drops.  Powder dose 1/4-1 drachm.    (57)

General Notes: Sweet flag is sometimes credited with aphrodisiac powers; for an extended celebration of its properties, see Walt Whitman’s poem “Calamus.”  (13) 

Sweet flag (calamus) is currently under F.D.A. restrictions, not recommended for internal usage and held to be toxic. However, it has been used in Ayurveda for many thousands of years, being one of the most renowned herbs of the ancient Vedic seers. It is a rejuvenative for the brain and the nervous system, which it purifies and revitalizes. As such it is also a rejuvenative for Vata, and secondarily for Kapha. It clears the subtle channels of toxins and obstructions. It promotes cerebral circulation, increases sensitivity, sharpens memory and enhances awareness. It is sattvic and one of the best herbs for the mind, along with brahmi (gotu kola) for which purposes it can be combined. It also helps transmute sexual energy and feeds kundalini.  (40)

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References:

(1) Joniris Herbals Research Data, “Sweet Flag Root Tinctures” file

(1b) Joniris Herbals Research Data, “Herbs and antidepressant drugs can cross paths, with careful use” by Robert Rountree, MD, Herbs for Health, Sept/Oct ’99, p. 32, et al.

(2)  PDR for Herbal Medicines (Medical Economics Co., 1998), p. 60

(6) Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pg. 363 

(8) The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman, pg. 187

(10) Herbal Preparations and Natural Therapies by Debra Nuzzi St. Claire, M.H., pg. 127

(11) Herbal Materia Medica (5th edition) by Michael Moore, pg. 3

(13) The Herb Book by John Lust, pgs. 373-374

(14) Natural Healing With Herbs by Humbart Santillo BS, MH, p. 325

(15) The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, pg. 182

(40) The Yoga of Herbs  by  Dr. David Frawley &  Dr. Vasant Lad, pgs. 106-108

(50) The Practical Herbalist and Astrologer by Ira N. Shaw, pgs. 32-33

(57) Potter’s Cyclopaedia by R.C. Wren, F.L.S., pgs. 64-66