Dr. Deepak Acharya
The traditional storage of ethnobotanical knowledge in memory and practices has a long history and must go back to the beginning of human existence. Likewise, ethnobotany is of great age in India, where it has been described in several ancient literatures. One of the most important sources is the Rig Veda (1200-900 BC), which has been useful in the attempt to identify the source of the traditional medicine system, also known as ‘Ayurveda’. Application of such herbal remedies has also been mentioned in the Atharva Veda (around 3,000 to 2,000 BC). It was in the 19th century when scientists started focusing on the active components found in herbs that gave a way to the research on molecular level. Herbs like Caraway, Cardamom, Turmeric, Aniseed, Clove, Cumin seeds, Basil, Ginger etc. are a few among the gigantic range of culinary herbs. The wild plants have been providing an important source of medicine and food since time immemorial.
In an attempt to feature traditional herbal applications, the author aims to feature one herb in each issue of this magazine. The current issue brings information about Calamus or Sweet Flag.
Acorus calamus L.
Vernacular Names: Bach (Assamese); Bach (Bengali, Hindi); Calamus, Sweet Flag (English); Vekhand (Gujarati, Marathi); Baje (Kannada); Vayampa (Malayalam); Vashambu (Tamil); Vasa (Telugu).
Plant Profile and Distribution: Perennial, aromatic herbs, with creeping, jointed, pale to dark brown rhizomes; leaves linear-lanceolate; flowers yellowish-green, in spadix; berries green, angular, with 1-3 oblong seeds. Commonly found in marshy and moist places of tropical forests in hilly terrain and Himalayan regions, also cultivated as medicinal crop throughout in India.
The rhizome is an emetic, colic, nerve tonic and stomachic. It is used in dysentery particularly in children, remittent fever, epilepsy, bronchitis, glandular and abdominal tumours and in snake bites. The essential oil from the rhizome is anticonvulsant, antiveratrinic and antiarrhythmic. An alcoholic extract of the plant is a sedative and analgesic. It moderately depresses the blood pressure and respiration.
Calamus oil and its fractions are credited with carminative, anti-spasmodic and anti-bacterial properties. The rhizome is reported to have an anti-inflammatory effect. It improves blood circulation and is effective in treating swollen and rough skin. In Ayurveda the smoke of the rhizome is used to protect wounds from infestation, pain, itching and inflammation. In the Ayurvedic system of medicine, the rhizomes are considered to possess skin healing properties too. It is light and non greasy in nature, it penetrates deep to restore moisture content and make skin soft and smooth.
The plant is used to treat cancer, rheumatism, rickets, paralysis, gout, low blood pressure and fatigue. To treat fever and dyspepsia, essential oil obtained from the plant is inhaled. It is also is used to relieve asthma, dysentery, hysteria, cough, loss of appetite, catarrh and typhoid. Essential oil is said to be good in hemorrhage. Decoction of dried plant is used in many cardiovascular disorders. It induces menstruation and relieves gastritis too. Dried leaf decoction is applied externally to relieve pain, rheumatism, fever, cough, boils, sterility and gout. Chewing of the leaf with Betel nut, acts as a general tonic, it removes foul smell from the mouth. Rhizome prevents fatigue, treats colds, toothache, sore throat, stomach disorders, coughs, headaches, rheumatism, arthritic pain, mental disorders. It is an emmenagogue, aphrodisiac, and regulates fat metabolism. The rhizomes are used in epilepsy, leucoderma, ring worm, diarrhea, bronchial disease, cutaneous diseases, chest complaints, gastrointestinal disorders, malaria and urino-genital disorders (Acharya and Shrivastava, 2008, 2011).
Traditional Tribal Formulations
The rhizome is used to cure stammering of children. For alleviating pain during the delivery, rhizome of the plant is crushed in water and Castor (Ricinus communis) oil is added in it and applied over the navel. Tribals of Lavaghogri put together a decoction of Coriander (Coriendrum sativum), Cumin Seeds (Cuminum cyminum), and sap of this plant to cure cough. They place rhizome of plant within the mouth for getting relieved from the cough. Water or milk extract of the plant is said to be good for brain, it works as a tonic. A dose of 125-500mg of Calamus rhizome powder mixed with Pumpkin fruit (Cucurbita pepo) is prepared for curing cough.
In cold and headache, Calamus powder is mixed in water and a paste is prepared. It is boiled and applied on forehead or the powder is inhaled. To treat hysteric patient, Calamus powder (30 – 50g) with honey is given orally. Patient is adviced to take only milk and rice in meals. In case of secretion/ pus in ears, Calamus powder and Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora) are boiled and to it Sesame seed (Sesamum indicum) oil is added. It is filtered and placed in ears. For a normal and painless delivery, Calamus powder is crushed with water and boiled with Castor (Ricinus communis) oil. It is applied over the naval region of the pregnant lady.
For cleansing, soothing and conditioning of male facial skin, Orange (Citrus reticulata) fruit peel, Calamus (rhizome oil), Chicory (Cichorium intybus) seeds and honey are mixed in an equal proportion and prepare a paste. Clean the face and neck thoroughly with fresh water. Apply this combination all over the face and neck in upward circular motions, twice a day.
Acharya, D. and Shrivastava, A. 2008. Indigenous Herbal Medicines: Tribal Formulations and Traditional Herbal Practices. Aavishkar Publishers Distributors, Jaipur. ISBN 978-81-7910-252-7.
Acharya, D, Shrivastava, A. 2011. Ethnomedicinal Plants of Gujarat State. Forest Department, Gujarat, Gandhinagar. ISBN 8190311484. 412pp.