English Name—SWEET FLAG.
French Name—Acore Odorant.
Official Names—Calamus Aromaticus, Calami Radix.
Vulgar Names—Flag-root, Sweet Cane, Myrtle Flag, Sweet Grass, Sweet Root, Sweet Rush.
Authorities—Linnaeus, Michaux, Pursh, Dispensaries, Schoepf, Woodville, Thacher, Coxe, Swediaur, Bigelow's Sequel, W. Barton fig. 30 bad, &c. &c.
Genus ACORUS—Spadix cylindrical with crowded flowers. Perigone simple, six-parted persistent. Stamina six pericentric. Germen one, no style, stigma punctiform. Capsuls three celled, many seeded.
Species A. CALAMUS Var. AMERICANUS—Leaves and stems sword shaped, ancipital, stems longer. Spadix cylindrical, obtuse, solitary, oblique, submedial lateral. Capsuls oblong acute.
Description—Root perennial, horizontal, jointed, rugose, nearly cylindrical, from six to twenty-four inches long, joints from half an inch to an inch long, white, with triangular shades, or rings of brown and rose; the inside is spongy, and loses much by dessication; bunches of coarse fibres hang downwards, and hairy brown fibres spread upwards.
The leaves are all radical sheathing at the base, and variegated of white, rose and green; they become flat above, green and smooth, with a ridge on each side in the middle, the end is very sharp, length from one to three feet. The stems are similar to the leaves; but commonly longer and bearing near the middle on one edge, the spadix or thick spike of flowers.
Spadix solitary, oblique, cylindrical from one to three inches long, both ends tapering but obtuse.—Flowers small, crowded spirally on it, and yellow, Perigone with six equal and truncate segments.—Stamina six, filaments thick, anthers bilobe—Germen one gibbose, oblong, stigma sessile, pointed—Capsul oblong with many minute, slender seeds.
History—The Genus ACORUS is so perfectly natural that the few species belonging to it, are hardly distinguished from each other. The Chinese Acorus (A. gramineus) has narrow leaves and the spadix nearly terminal. The Asiatic and Malabar species (A. verus,) has a slender root and thin leaves. The European Acorus is deemed by all Botanists similar to the North American, and yet differs as much from it as the Chinese. The above specific character applies to our American variety or species: while the European plant may be distinguished by the following definition. A. CALAMUS Var. Europeus—Leaves and stems sword-shaped, nearly equal, hardly ancipital. Spadix cylindrical, obtuse, oblique, lateral, often double. Capsuls trigone obtuse.
These distinctions hardly amount to specific difference, and therefore the genus might properly be considered as having a single type, which being widely spread has undergone some variations in China, India, Europe and North America. This surmise will be confirmed by the habit of these plants being perfectly identical, and all possessing the same aromatic smell and medical properties.
ACORUS is a name derived from the Greek and alluding to a former belief that it was beneficial for disorders of the eyes. CALAMUS meant a Reed or Rush in Greek and Latin.
This genus belongs to HEXANDRIA Monogynia of Linnaeus; but in the natural arrangement to the tribe of ORONTIDES, a branch of TYPHIDES, next to the genus Orontium. It is like them an aquatic plant. growing on the borders of streams and ponds or meadows, ditches, &c. throughout North America, from Canada to Louisiana, east and west of the mountains, in company with the Iris or Flags, Typha, Sparganium, Orontium, Juncus, and other Rushes. The fine smell of the leaves and roots, enables to distinguish it from all other Flags and Rushes at any time.
The roots are the most essential part. They form an article of trade in China, Malabar, Turkey, &c.—In the early stage of the North American Colonies, it was exported to England; and is even now occasionally sent abroad. It might be carried to China where it is esteemed. It grows so copiously that there will be no need to cultivate it; but when it may become expedient to produce more, it will be very easy to raise it by planting slips of the roots in ditches and swampy grounds. To prepare the roots for use or exportation they must be dug, cleaned and dried. The best time to collect them is the spring and fall.
Cattle will not eat this plant, and it is noxious to insects; the leaves, therefore, may be used to advantage against moths and worms. This is owing to their strong smell. Leather can be tanned by the whole plant.
The blossoms appear in May or June; they are yellow and crowded on a thick spike or spadix.
Qualities—A chemical examination of the roots, evinces the presence of Tannin, Amarine, and an essential Oil, in which resides the aromatic smell; but this last can only be obtained in the proportion of half per cent. The bitter principle is better soluble in water than alcohol.
Properties—The roots are warm, aromatic, pungent and bitter. They are deemed stomachic, tonic, corroborant and carminative. The infusion in wine or spirits becomes bitter, but acquires a nauseous flavour. The infusion in water preserves the fine smell, and becomes pleasantly warm and bitter.
It is useful in disorders of the stomach, flatulency, vertigo, cholics, dyspepsia, &c.; candied roots and the extract, or chewing the roots and swallowing the juice, are efficient in those cases.—The warm infusion like tea, cures the wind cholic of infants, sailors, &c.
The dose of the extract is half a drachm. When the root is masticated, a copious salivation is produced, which has cured the tooth ache. Children are fond of this root in many places, and may be indulged with it; the taste is spicy and pleasant. The candied roots are palatable and much used in Asia.—This root enters into many compound preparations, theriaca, mithridate, &c.
It has been recommended in intermittents, which it has cured when the bark had failed, but more effectual tonics, may be used.
Substitutes—Panax quinquefolium or Ginseng—Anisum or Aniseed—Angelica—Illicium—Solidago odora or Golden Rod—Frasera or Columbo—with all mild tonics and aromatic-bitter substances.
Remarks—The Iris pseudo-Acorus of Europe does not grow in America, and cannot be mistaken there for this. Some other Iris roots (I. florentina, I. versicolor, &.c.) which are also sweet scented, but more agreeable, may be distinguished by the violet smell.
Henry calls this Acrous! and gives a bad figure of it.
Additions and corrections
No. 1. ACORUS CALAMUS—It contains also fecula and extractive; decoction destroys its activity: much employed in the East Indies in infusion for the bowel complaints of children.
Medical Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, 1828, was written by C. S. Rafinesque.