SWEET FLAG ( ACORUS CALAMUS) - USED FOR FOOD AND MEDICINE
The Sweet Flag under discussion here is the one native to the Indian subcontinent. It is different to the Sweet Flag grown in
North America, which is Acorus americanus. The two plants are in the same genus so are closely related, but have different properties and constituents. Sweet Flag is in the Araceae or lily family so is related to taro (Colocasia esculenta), the Arum or Calla lily and the Cuckoo pint.
The Sweet Flag which grows in the Indian subcontinent has been an important medicinal plant since early times, and is also a source of food, particularly in
, where it is cultivated as well as growing wild. The volatile essential oil extracted from he rhizome of this plant is used in the perfume industry and the root and other parts of this plant are also employed in traditional medicine. Bangladesh
This plant grows in marshy ground or on the banks of ponds, lakes and in water. Its leaves have been found to have anti-fungal properties and it has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for numerous ailments including bronchitis, for heart, lung, liver, kidney and gall bladder complaints. The roots are used as a remedy for diarrhoea and dysentery, to get rid of intestinal worms and as an anti-spasmodic for epilepsy and stomach cramps and catarrh. The flowers, or inflorescences as they are correctly called, are used for eczema, kidney and liver disorders and rheumatism.
There are many other uses for the Sweet Flag in traditional systems of medicine, including to start menstruation, if a period is late, and it is said that it can relieve flatulence and aid digestion, as well as help in cases of fever by reducing the temperature by promoting sweating. The root is chewed to relieve toothache, and a potion is made with the plant to aid digestion and to ease anxiety as it is reputed to have sedative actions. It is also reputed to have aphrodisiac qualities.
Sweet Flag also has other uses and is sometimes burnt as incense; the leaves can be woven to make mats and baskets, for thatch and were used as a strewing herb for floors. They smell a little like cinnamon as do the roots. The essential oil from the leaves is used in perfumery and can be used to flavour vinegar and other food. The leaves are also used as insecticide and insect repellants.
The β-asarone found in the plant may be carcinogenic and toxic, but in small amounts has tranquillizing and antibiotic actions.
The rhizome is starchy, but can be used like taro and is also candied and often washed, peeled and eaten uncooked. It is rich in starch like other edible roots such as the yam and taro. The powdered rhizome can be used as a substitute for cinnamon, ginger or nutmeg. Children eat the flowers for their sweetness. Sometimes the leaves are used like vanilla pods are for flavouring custards and milk puddings.