Calamus is a big, fragrant plant with sword-shaped leaves and unimpressive yellow-green flowers. It can be found in marshes and at the borders of bodies of waters in Europe, Asia and North America.
Usage: The roots are collected during late autumn or in spring, washed, the root hairs removed and dried at a low temperature. The root can be chewed fresh or cut into small pieces and prepared as a cold extract. The use as tea makes not much sense, as heating seems to impair the effectiveness. It is possible to extract juice from the root and to drink the fresh juice – processing in an electric juicer can be done without any problems. Dosage goes from 5 to 25 cm of the fresh root. If one uses the dried and powdered root 10 to 15 g of the powder can be extracted with cold water and the resulting extract strained. The active constituents decompose while aging; therefore the root turns after about one year inactive. It should be stored cool and dry. Besides oral intake the root is also well suited for a bath additive.
Active constituents: Asarone and beta-asarone.
Effects: A pencil-thick piece of the root, that is around 5 cm long (ca. 10 g), acts stimulating and causes a cheerful mood. The effect was also described as “empathogenic”. A piece of 25 cm can lead to perceptual changes. Calamus can furthermore, most especially in its pulverized form, act as aphrodisiac when used as a bath additive.
Side Effects: Calamus should not be taken together with MAO-inhibitors. Members of the tribes of the crows chewed the roots regularly for oral hygiene and as a stimulant. Side effects were not observed. Several experiments seemed to indicate that high amounts of calamus oil can lead to a higher risk for cancer in rats. Similar results have not been noticed in humans.
Special features: There are three subspecies of calamus, of which one does not contain beta-asarone. Calamus grown in Germany is usually active. In contrast to earlier years, the calamus available in Germany, particularly in the ethnobotanical stores, most often contains active substances. The content of essential oils varies between 1,7 % and 8,7 %. The content of beta-asarone varies between 0 and 96 % of essential oils. European, Asian and North American subspecies show different compositions, wherein Asian calamus acts rather calming, and North American rather stimulating. J. Ott suspected so far unknown substances in North American strains.
Suppliers: Dried roots in pharmacies und herbal stores. Seeds at botanical suppliers, live plants in nurseries.
Miscellaneous: The former German underground-magazine BTM-Kurier reported in its issue 1/95, that calamus supposedly is a better admixture for marijuana than tobacco. It would compensate the toxic components and partly neutralize the soporific effect of bad quality hash. Even in general Calamus is suitable as a smoked tobacco-substitute. Calamus was often a component of absinth; today for instance, the herbal liqueur “Moonwalk” contains a substantial share of calamus.