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Plant Information

Common Name: SWEET FLAG
Scientific Name: Acorus calamus
Alternative Names: Calamus (Eng), Makkalmoes, Kalmoes (Afr), Ikalamuzi (Zu)

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Acorus calamus


  • Perennial
  • Indigenous to South Africa.
  • Hardy, semi-evergreen, iris-like, rhizome forming perennial that can grow up to 1.5m.
  • Has thick, erect leaves.
  • In summer - bears minute yellow-green flowers on flowering stems that resembles a leaf, followed by small berry-like yellowish fruit, containing few seeds.
  • The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs).
  • The rhizomes and leaves have the refreshing scent of cinnamon when crushed.
  • Will grow almost anywhere as long as adequate amounts of water are present.
  • Needs ful sun, any type of soil and can grow in water as well.
  • Prefers a pH 5.5 to 7.5.

Culinary Uses

  • The dried and powdered rhizome is rich in starch and has a spicy flavor and is used as a substitute for ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  • A pinch of the powdered rhizome is used as a flavoring in tea.
  • Young leaves can be used to flavor custards in the same way as vanilla pods.
  • The inner portion of young stems can be eaten raw and added to salad.
  • Can flavor vinegar.

Parts Used

  • Leaves, rhizomes and stems - harvested in autumn/spring and dried for later use. Rhizomes 2 - 3 years old are used.
  • The dry rhizome loses 70% of its weight, but has an improved smell and taste.
  • Deteriorate if stored for more than a year.

Medicinal Uses. It is said that

  • Bitter, stimulant herb that relaxes spasms and is regarded as a restorative for the brain and nervous system, especially after a stroke.
  • Internally:
  • Treat digestive complaints, disorders of the gall bladder, chronic diarrhea and chronic dysentery.
  • Useful in treating bronchitis, coughs, sinusitis and common colds.
  • Valuable home remedy for children suffering from whooping cough - being antispasmodic, it prevents the severe bouts of coughing.
  • Have tonic powers to stimulate and normalize the appetite.
  • In small doses it reduces stomach acidity whilst larger doses increase stomach secretions - recommended in the treatment of anorexia nervosa.
  • Chewing the rhizome is said to kill the taste for tobacco and chewing a small piece will help against tiredness.
  • The Dakota Indians used calamus to treat diabetes, and there are reported cases where regularly chewing of the root for a few months, cured people who had been given up by Western medicine.
  • Externally:
  • Rheumatic pains, neuralgia and skin eruptions.
  • Apply to indolent ulcers and it will keep up the discharges from blistered surfaces.
  • Treat mouth ulcers, coating on the tongue and rawness (inflammation of the skin).

Other Uses

  • Basketry, incense, insecticide, repellent, thatching and weaving.
  • The essential oil is an insect repellent and insecticide - effective against houseflies.
  • When added to rice being stored in granaries it has significantly reduced loss caused by insect damage (the oil in the root has sterilized the male rice weevils).
  • All parts of the plant can be dried and used to repel insects or to scent linen cupboards.
  • The growing plant is said to repel mosquitoes.
The information contained within this website is for educational purposes only. This site merely recounts the traditional uses of specific plants as recorded through history. Always seek advice from a medical practitioner.

Mountain Herb Estate, and its representatives will not be held responsible for the improper use of any plants or documentation provided. By use of this site and the information contained herein you agree to hold harmless Mountain Herb Estate, its affiliates and staff

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