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Calamus (Acorus calamus) Hydrosol

Calamus (Acorus calamus) Hydrosol

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Calamus (Acorus calamus) Hydrosol

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Plant description

Latin Name : Acorus calamus
English Name : Sweet Flag
French Name : Acore odorant, acore roseau, acorus, belle angélique
Family : Araceae
Origin : Canada

History and Origin

In Quebec, Sweet Flag is a rather southern plant, and it is quite rare in Northern regions, Laurentian Mountains and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It is an aquatic plant of about 1 meter with straight rectilinear leaves. In the Middle Ages, it was used to make an aromatic ground cover in Cathedrals, and it is still used in perfumery and as an aromatic in beers, wines, and snuff tobacco. In India, Sweet Flag candy is widely used to treat children colics. In Quebec, the plant has an important role in popular medicine. 

Often called « belle angélique » by Quebeckers and Sweet Flag by English Canadians, Acorus forms part of the Native American tradition. It is used to lower fever and relieve neuralgias and digestive disorders. It has been used as a treatment to repel bedbugs in the fur trade. Not widely known today, this native plant was once widely used for similar purposes by the various tribes of North America:

• As an infusion: against headache, stomach ache, intestinal cramps, flu, intestinal parasites, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, fever, bronchitis, hypertension and diabetes, to help parturition, reduce menopause symptoms and regulate menstrual cycle.
• Ground root: mixed with tobacco to treat headaches. It was also used in poultice to cure sore teeth, abdominal cramps and sore throat. The plant is smoked in sweat lodges (« tentes de sudation ») and it is used to treat tuberculous arthritis and ear pains.
• As a decoction: to soothe irritations due to nettle and other irritating plants and to cure cholera.
• As an ointment: applied on the face or warriors to prevent over-excitement and fear during battles.
• Dried root: shamans used it, among other things, to protect children against the spirits of the night and ghosts. They would also advise fishers to tie some roots to their nets to attract fish.

Another variety of Sweet Flag with a completely different chemotype (containing a high percentage of asarone) is found in China, where the leaf and root are used in a smudge combined with Artemisia to repel insects. Changpu Acorus is found in the first Chinese pharmacopoeia Shennong bencao jing (around the beginning of our Age): (it) treats problems related to “humid and cold winds” and coughs and opposes the ascending Qi. It opens the way to the heart, nourishes the five organs, frees the nine orifices, clears the eyes and ears, and (helps) voice articulation. Used over a long period, it lightens the boy, enhances memory, prevents confusion and prolongs life. Other name: “changyang”.
Not to be confused with North American chemotype.

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Aromatherapy Data Sheet

Distilled Part : Root (leaves are mildly aromatic; but their yield in terms of essential oil is much lower)
Extraction : Steam distillation
pH : 4.6
Aroma and taste : Highly unusual. One of the strangest odors you will ever encounter and a case of love or hate for most people. It is a peculiarly masculine aroma, and certainly it’s preferred by men more than women; perhaps that’s why it’s used in perfumery, to attract men! 
Stability and Shelf Life : Stable. Easily lasts eighteen months, probably reliably for two years.

Properties and Applications

Calamus is specific for the liver and can be used with Labrador tea in topical compresses and poultices for liver infections and dysfunctions as well as hepatitis. French aromatherapy experiments by Dominique Baudoux with both topical and internal use of these two essential oils have yielded some very promising results in treating tumors and cancers in the liver, and the hydrosols are worth further exploration. Associated with milk thistle tincture, calamus hydrosol has produced wonderful results in detoxifying the liver and gallbladder, and it is certainly nicer and easier to take as a treatment than the better-known lemon and olive oil gallbladder cleanse. Calamus is best known in perfumery, where it is used as a fixative and base note. The hydrosol makes a gently astringent aftershave on its own or combined with sandalwood, cedarwood, or bay laurel.  

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Safety Data and Contraindications

Aliksir’s Calamus contains none of the hepatotoxic ketone beta-asarone, making it completely safe for use in aromatherapy both internally and externally.

Documentation and References

  • CATTY, Suzanne, Hydrosols The Next Aromatherapy, Healing Arts Press.
  • LAWLESS, Julia, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, Element Books.
  • MARIE-VICTORIN, La Flore Laurentienne, Gaétan Morin & Associés. 
  • MOERMAN, Daniel E., Native American Ethnobotany, Timber Press.