Calamus Oil: Benefits, Uses, Properties, and Side Effects
The calamus oil benefits are abundant. It is used as a flavoring agent in food & beverage industries for years. However, the use of calamus essential oil dates back to the ancient times when Egyptians used the calamus plants for their aphrodisiac effects.
Since many are unaware of what this essential oil could do to health, here is a detailed article highlighting its uses, health benefits, properties, and chemical compounds, and much more.
What Is Calamus Oil?
Popularly known as “sweet flag,” the calamus essential oil is extracted from its roots. Calamus is a semi-aquatic, sweet-smelling herb with creeping roots.
The plant has 2% essential oil that mainly comes from its roots or rhizomes via the process of steam distillation. Hence, it is often referred to as calamus root essential oil (1).
Scientific Name Of Calamus Oil
The botanical name of calamus is Acorus calamus.
History Of Calamus Oil
Acorus calamus, popularly known as sweet flag, belongs to the genus Acorus L. of the family Acoraceae. It also has multiple names such as Bhutanashini, Ugragandh, Jatila, Baje, Vayambu, Bach, Vacha, Vekhand, Vadaja, Vasa, Bacch, Vasambu, Bajai, bach, Vasa bach, Acorus odoratus, Acore Olorant, Acore Roseau, and Acorus americanus.
It grows in temperate and sub-temperate regions, especially in India and Srilanka. Calamus is popular in the traditional medicine systems of Europe and Asia.
The literature says that the roots, leaves, and stem of calamus have been used since 2000 years. Sweet flag is commonly found growing in damp, marshy places, and on the banks of streams.
It is a perennial (lives longer than two years), which grows up to 2 meters. It has an aromatic cylindrical rhizome that grows up to 2.5 cm thick. The essential oil of Acorus calamus was first extracted from the rhizome in 1592 at Frankfurt. However, the use of calamus oil goes back to the ancient times of Ayurveda and Chinese medicine.
Color, Consistency, and Smell Of Calamus Oil
- The color of calamus oil is yellow.
- The consistency of calamus oil is thick.
- The smell of calamus oil is refreshing and similar to the scent of cinnamon.
Properties Of Calamus Essential Oil
- Aromatic – Distinctive or pleasant smell
- Antidiabetic – Normalizes the blood sugar levels
- Hypolipidemic – Lowers the bad cholesterol
- Analgesic – assists in relieving pain
- Antidiarrheal – Prevents dysentery
- Anxiolytic – Relieves anxiety
- Antidepressant – Prevents depression
- Anticonvulsant – Treats epilepsy
- Antispasmodic – Prevents muscle spasms
- Antioxidant – Fights against oxidation (harmful) caused by pollution, chemicals, etc.
- Antimicrobial – Destroys bacteria and viruses
- Insecticidal – Kills the insects
- Nootropic – Enhances memory as well as cognitive functions
- Tranquilizer – Reduces anxiety and depression
- Sedative – Induces sleep
- Hypothermic – Helps in reducing fever
- Antiepileptic – Prevents seizures
- Anti-rheumatic – Eases rheumatoid arthritis (inflammation in the joints)
Chemical Compounds In Calamus Oil
Calamus oil consists of 32 major components, which mainly include Α-asarone, methyleugenol, β-asarone, α-cedrene, preisocalamenediol, acorenone, isoshyobunone, 1,4-(trans)-1,7- (trans)- acorenone, 2,6-diepishyobunone, β-gurjunene, cryptoacoronecamphor, calameon, calamen, clamenol, sesquiterpenes, camphor, (z)-sesquilavandulol, shyobunone, dehydroxyisocalamendiol, acorenone, isocalcamendiol, α-selinene, linalool, isoshyobunone, (z)-methyl isoeugenol, (e)-methyl isoeugenol, βasarone, calamenene, isocalamendiol, (z)- methylisoeugenol, acoragermacrone, δ-cadinene, cedrol, α-cedrene, berganotene, α palchoulene, α-guaiadiene, 4-(5- hydroxy-2,6,6-trimethyl-1-cyclohexen-1-yl)-3-buten-2-one, dehydrofukinone, and elemicin.
Health Benefits Of Calamus Oil
Though calamus oil benefits are numerous, the prominent ones include:
1. Treats mental disorders
Calamus is a tranquilizer. Tranquilizer is a medicine that reduces tension and anxiety. Accodring to a 2017 research published in the journal of medicinal plant studies, besides valeriana jatamansi and nardostacys grandiflora, calamus extracts act as an effective tranquilizer states (2).
Depression can be life-threatening, if left untreated. It is a state where you do not find life enjoyable. The simple things that you used to find pleasure, will no longer make you happy and you might have suicidal thoughts.
On the other hand, anxiety is a state of over-worrying, so much that it interferes with your day-to-day life. If you have social anxiety, you avoid social gatherings.
Ayurveda calls sweet flag a rejuvenator of the brain and nervous system. According to the ancient Indian medical science, Ayurveda, roots of calamus help in relaxing and calming down. β-asarone present in the essential oil is useful in insanity, hysteria, and mental retardation because of sedative action (4, 5).
The compound alpha asarone present in the aroma of calamus oil eases memory problems and loss of concentration and stimulates your body and mind (6).
Few therapists place diluted calamus oil drops in both the nostrils of Down syndrome patients. The oil starts working after 15 minutes itself. It improves the responsiveness and interaction of patients.
*Down’s syndrome is an incurable genetic disease characterized by physical and mental disabilities.
2. Prevents epilepsy
Epilepsy is a nerve disease where the brain activity becomes abnormal, causing:
- Periods of unusual behavior/ sensations
- Loss of awareness at times
Epilepsy is also known as fits or convulsions. An article published in the journal of drug delivery and therapeutics states that an herbal medicine containing Acorus calamus reduces the epilepsy attacks by 50%.
After 6 months of use, out of 88 epilepsy patients, the medicine cured 66 of them. Even after two years of treatment, there were no epileptic attacks in cured patients.
Alpha asarone and β-asarone present in the essential oil of Acorus calamus have a depressive action on the nervous system causing a reduction in epilepsy (7).
3. Fights Alzheimer’s disease
One of the best calamus oil benefits is that it fights Alzheimer’s. Thanks to the compound asarone in it. Asarone is proven to alleviate memory and nerve problems.
Alzheimer’s is a condition that is accompanied by memory loss. The disease worsens with age and affects the mental abilities, making even the usual conversations challenging.
According to Ayurveda and Chinese medicines, calamus is used with complementary herbs such as Bacopa monnieri & Centella asiatica to treat Alzheimer’s (8).
4. Cures asthma
According to the ancient Ayurveda, rhizomes or roots of calamus are highly effective in treating asthma.
Asthma is a condition where the airways constrict (decrease in size) and there is excess mucus production, leading to shortness of breath. Calamus oil has bronchodilatory effects, thus it dilates your airways (9).
5. Eases bronchitis
According to ancient Ayurveda, rhizomes/ roots of calamus are useful to treat bronchitis. Native tribes used to make a decoction from the calamus roots to relieve coughing (10).
Calamus is a well-known expectorant (11). It clears the sinuses of mucus, and thereby, easing cold. When calamus is used with ginger, it provides quick relief from cold, flu, congestion (blocked nose and chest).
In certain parts of India, calamus nasya application is practiced wherein they use few drops of diluted calamus oil to treat and prevent repetitive ear infections, colds, and flu. Nasya also helps to clear the mind and increase focus.
6. Relieves digestive troubles
Calamus infusion helps in relieving colic pain. Colic is a pain of sudden onset, which also calms down suddenly. The pain results explicitly when there is a contraction of muscles while passing bowel or gas.
According to Western medicine, calamus is useful to relieve all kinds of digestive troubles such as gas, bloating, constipation, and colic. Constipation is a condition where there is a difficulty while passing the stools.
7. Treats diarrhea
When you consume calamus in small amounts, it helps you relieve acidity. Acidity or hyperacidity is a condition where there is an excess production in the stomach acid. Usually, your stomach produces acid to digest foods. However, if your stomach produces excess acid, it can be troublesome as you may feel chest burn or cramps (14).
8. Speeds wound healing
According to a research conducted in 2014, Calamus speeds up all the aspects of wound healing. When there is a wound on your body, the healing takes place via various stages such as collagen synthesis, maturation, wound contraction, and epithelialization.
Few medicinal plants enhance the process of wound healing and calamus is one of them. During the study, researchers treated wounds with calamus oil in the form of ointment and compared it with wounds treated with povidone-iodine.
Histopathology or lab examination confirmed that calamus speeds the wound healing process by assisting in all the phases (15).
9. Potent insecticide
Another article published in a leading journal also confirms the insecticide properties of the essential oil of sweet flag. The compounds shyobunone and isoshyobunone present in calamus essential oil have insecticidal properties.
The calamus essential oil possesses insecticidal activity and are highly effective against tobacco armyworm, Spodoptera litura, larger grain borer, Prostephanus truncates, and the booklouse, Liposcelis bostrychophila (16, 17).
10. Useful in fever
According to ancient Ayurveda, the rhizomes or roots of calamus are useful to treat fever. The essential oil extracted from Acorus calamus also has anti-inflammatory properties. It treats intermittent fever.
The compound β-asarone present in the essential oil helps you relax. Further, due to its sedative action, it brings the fever down (18).
What Blends With Calamus Oil?
Calamus essential oil blends the best with:
- Amyris oil
- Atlas Cedarwood oil
- Cinnamon oil
- Cedar Wood oil
- Tea Tree oil
- Ylang-Ylang oil
- Clary Sage oil
- Labdanum oil
- Olibanum oil
- Lavender oil
- Patchouli oil
- Rosemary oil
- Marjoram oil
- Oregano oil
How To Use Calamus Oil?
You may add just a couple of drops to your bathtub. Though calamus oil is extremely helpful in aromatherapy and rejuvenating baths, it is not meant for household use, as it can be very toxic and dangerous at higher concentrations. Speak to your doctor and use the oil as prescribed.
Side Effects Of Calamus Oil
When the oil is not used as instructed, you might experience these side effects:
- It can cause cancer.
- It can cause epilepsy in higher doses.
- It can be toxic, the symptoms of toxicity are dizziness, seizures, and kidney damage.
- It can make your skin sensitive.
- It can be bad for your heart and cause low BP/ blood pressure. Those who already have a low BP, should avoid using this oil.
- It can interfere with other drugs: The effects of allergy medicines, antihistamines, antidepressants, atropine, and scopolamine may reduce when used with this oil.
- It can cause excessive sleepiness.
- This oil should never be used during pregnancy as it can stimulate periods.
Though calamus has innumerable health benefits, it has been banned in the US by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in 1968. Right use in moderation is the key!