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What is Calamus Root?

By Douglas Bonderud
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Calamus root is a water-based plant that grows along the edges of lakes and swamps. It is characterized by long, tall stalks which can reach up to three feet (0.914 m) in height. Its roots can grow to a similar length, and branch out around it just under the soil. These plants are easy to grow and can exist anywhere there is water, soil, and sunlight. Calamus root is often found in the same environment as the cat-tail.

The Latin name for calamus root is acorus Calamus, and it is also known as sweet flag, acorus and cinnamon sedge. It is green and grass-like in appearance, and rarely bears fruit. On the occasions that it does, the fruit is berry-like and small, and contains almost no seeds.

This plant has been used in North American, India, and China for centuries to treat a multitude of ailments. The active portion of the plant is the root structure, with the long stalks having no medicinal effects. Calamus root contains an active ingredient known as asarone, which is divided into two sub-types, A and B. A-asarone is found in all calamus root plants, and produces a stimulating effect when consumed. B-asarone is found only in Indo-European and Asian calamus roots, and has a sedative-like effect that has been compared to that of chlorpromazine. This B-type asarone is considered to be a carcinogen.

Common problems treated by calamus root include headaches, neuralgia, and memory loss. It has also been used to treat stomach problems, such as indigestion and loss of appetite. Also, calamus root can be added to a bath to improve circulation, or used as a mouthwash for gum disease. When eaten, the plant has a slightly bitter taste. If too much is consumed, it can cause stomach upset or vomiting.

In holistic medicine, these roots often take several forms, including capsules and as an essential oil which is added to a diffuser. They can also be smoked, which is purported to produce detoxifying effects. The plant may simply be eaten, but care must be taken as to how much is ingested. Eating a two in (five cm) piece of calamus root can produce mild stimulation, but a ten in (25 cm) piece may cause an experience much like that caused by taking the narcotic LSD. These include hallucinations and an altered perception reality. Native American tribes sometimes ingested the root for this purpose.

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Discussion Comments

By anon89166 — On Jun 09, 2010

Although mildly psychoactive, Calamus is not a hallucinogen, and does not produce effects similar to LSD. It's reputation as a psychedelic is based on a page or two in a book called 'The Hallucinogens' by Hoffer and Osmund.

Virtually all that you hear quoted and misquoted comes from these two pages. Hoffer and Osmund wrote about people who told them about how they used it twice. I find the information presented misleading and overstated.

Furthermore, this false reputation has lead to people unfamiliar with this medicine looking for a legal 'high', only to spend hours with agonizing nausea, stomach cramps, and extreme vomiting.

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