Acorus Calamus (Sweet Flag) has been well-known as a medicinal plant since its early use by Native Americans, most notably the Cree Indians, who were widespread throughout North America. Traditionally the fresh root was chewed for its medicinal qualities which reportedly include, among others, stimulation and mental clarity, divination, relief of various stomach and digestive ailments, cough suppression, eye problems and diabetes. In large doses, it can be used to induce vomiting. Another variety of calamus has been cultivated throughout Asia, where the Chinese also use it as a natural remedy for various ailments. However, the Asian variety is said to contain toxic and carcinogenic elements. Calamus has the aroma of citrus and has been used in fragrances and its spicy taste has been compared to cinnamon. It is still widely sold in dried form by many herbal suppliers, although many sources agree that it loses potency quickly upon drying.
This semi-aquatic, cold-hardy perennial has an attractive grass-like appearance and is native to riverbanks and wetlands of Southwestern U.S., but has now been spread around the entire eastern United States and much of the west coast. Its flowers are yellow to green and form in the late spring to early summer. Although calamus is considered a semi-aquatic, it can easily be grown in a yard or garden. Potted plants will be significantly shorter than those in the ground, which can reach 6 feet in height, and subsequent plants can quickly and easily be obtained by division of the plant’s rhizomes.
Growing Information: Growing from seed is fairly straightforward. Cold stratify the seeds by placing them in a folded, moist paper towel and putting them in the fridge for four weeks. This simulates winter. As an alternative, seeds can be sown outdoors some time before the end of winter for natural cold stratification. Following this cold period, plant the seeds 1/8 inch deep in a rich soil mix with plenty of organic matter. The change in temperature will let the seed know it’s time to germinate. After the seedlings are established, place them in partial sun and be sure to always keep the soil moist.
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