Description: A semi-evergreen perennial with scented rhizomes, arching tapered reed-like leaves and minute yellow-green flowers. It grows by water. The ancient Egyptians used calamus in the Kyphi recipes. In ancient times calamus was considered a symbol of masculine vitality and worldly success.
Calamus oil is one of the ingredients in the Holy anointing oil in Exodus 30:23. It's said powdered calamus will repel ants and was used in Medieval times along with lavender and pennyroyal as "strewing herbs" for scattering on the floor to ward off insects and other vermin.
Threatened Species Alert: Becoming rare in India: CIMAP (1997). See Cropwatch.
Synonyms: sweet flag, sweet reed, myrtle flag, sweet rush, sweet sedge
Origin: native to the wetlands of East Asia and Europe. Naturalized in North America and Russia
Parts Used: rhizomes (roots)
Aroma Description: pleasant, sweet, warm, woody, spicy, slight cinnamon-like fragrance
Cosmetic Uses: none known
Culinary Uses: the essential oil was once used to flavor liqueurs, bitters, beer, soft drinks, cordials, and vinegar, though this is no longer done due to the oils carcinogenic properties.
Medicinal Attributes: history of use for digestive problems, bronchitis, and sinusitis. Used externally for skin eruptions and rheumatic discomfort. Used extensively in Ayurvedic medicine, in which it is regarded as restorative for the brain and nervous system, especially after a stroke. Excess use causes vomiting.
Element Association: Water
Planetary Association: Moon
Aromatic Note: Middle note
Essential Oil: Yes, steam distilled. A fixative in perfumes. The oil is banned by the United States FDA and Great Britain. Restricted use in Australia and New Zealand. The leading component of the essential oil, beta-asarone, is carcinogenic (and reputedly hallucinogenic). Oil from calamus populations grown in N. America and Siberia have been found to be free of beta-asarone.
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