Nov 29, 2012

Calamus Root or Sweet Flag (Acorus calamus)

       An aromatic bitter, demulcent and antispasmodic, sweet flag or calamus root is widely used in Europe for indigestion, but it is also an important herb for those who want to quit smoking. Chewing the dried root stimulates saliva and has a calming effect on the respiratory tract. In her encyclopedic Modern Herbal, Mrs. M. Grieves wrote, "The rhizome is largely used in native Oriental medicines for dyspepsia and bronchitis and chewed as a cough lozenge." Calamus root is recommended for smokers because it stimulates salivation while having a tonic effect on the mucous membrane lining of the mouth and throat.

      Calamus root was featured on the FDA's List of Unsafe Herbs, which was discontinued years ago because of its inaccuracies, and it is still listed in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations as prohibited from direct addition to or use in human food. The controversy over calamus root stems from its asarone, a compound found to be carcinogenic in laboratory rats when taken in large quantities. Dr. Rudolf Weiss, the German authority on herbal medicine, wrote that calamus root has been popular from antiquity and is still widely used in Europe today without any reports of it causing cancer or any other problems.

       In The New Age Herbalist, Richard Mabey wrote that rhizomes from Europe have low concentrations of asarone compared with those from India, and no cases of malignancy have been reported in mill and mine workers who chew the rhizome daily. A conservative approach is to verify the source of calamus root and use this highly effective herb for short periods when needed. The volatile oils in calamus root are so fragile that Maria Treben recommended brewing calamus tea with cold water. Those same volatile oils, when released by steam, can be a pleasant, soothing, aromatic therapy for upper respiratory congestion. Pour boiling water over calamus root and inhale its sweet, spicy vapors. Because few health food stores carry calamus root, it may have to be ordered from an herb company. The rhizome has many aromatherapy uses and can be used as a sachet to scent sheets, pillowcases and clothing. It is also a popular ingredient in potpourris.