Intriguing, intoxicating substance: an earthly sweetness compounded by euphoria. This CO2 extract makes me smile from ear to ear ~ exotic aromatic experience!
– Antidepressant (Han 2013)
– Anticonvulsant (Chen 2013)
– Antimicrobial (Kim 2011) ~ acne (propionobacterium vulgaris)
– Antihelminthic (Kumar 2009)
Dr. Nick Notes
Acorus calamus (aka Sweet Flag) is an aromatic herb with an underground rhizome which is used to produce essential oil. Literature supporting both its therapeutic properties as well as toxicities perturbs (for now) a clear interpretation of what calamus oil’s role is therapeutically, although its exotic nature and beautiful aroma compel me to make it available.
There are at least four types of Acorus calamus reported, native to different geographic regions. Diploid varieties dominate North America, triploid in Europe, tetraploid in Asia (India, East Asia, Japan), and hexaploid in Kashmir (Liu 2013). Different ploidy results in strikingly different compositions of terpenes and related constituents with β-asarone content being the primary concern in relation to toxicity. Triploid or tetraploid varieties have been measured by GC/MS to contain up to 86.9% β-asarone, although could be as low as 3.5%, while diploid varieties typically do not contain any β-asarone (Satyal 2013, Liu 2013).
β-asarone and calamus oil have been shown to produce tumors with oral chronic administration as well as heart, thymus, and liver toxicities in rats (European Commission of Health & Consumer Protection Directorate, 2001). Genotoxic potential of β-asarone has also been shown in vitro (Abel 1987). The FDA has banned calamus and its derivatives from being added to the food supply in the US although small amounts are still permitted in Europe (FDA 21CFR189.110).
In ayurvedic medicine calamus is valued as a nerve tonic with a rejuvenating effect on the mind and nervous system. Rhizomes of the plant have been reported in folklore as having antispasmodic, carminative, anthelminthic, and antidepressant properties which has found some support in recent literature (Kumari 2009). Animal studies using α-asarone and β-asarone extracted from calamus root have shown to have antispasmodic, antimicrobial, anthelminthic, and antidepressant properties (Chen 2013, Han 2013, Kumar 2009, Kim 2011) and paradoxically antiproliferative and anticarcinogenic activity in human carcinoma cells (Kumari 2009).
How to Use
Let me be very clear: some literature warns of the risks of this plant extract. I'm unsure as to the varietal of this extract nor do I have a GC-MS readout of the β-asarone content. As such, I am NOT recommending any use of this CO2 extract for any purpose to anyone as the risks may outweigh the benefits.
Due to reported toxicities associated with β-asarone it is not recommended to use calamus oil internally (by mouth). Small amounts with heavy dilution may be appropriate for topical uses (on skin) on sparing occasions such as ceremonial anointment although caution is advised due to essential oils readily penetrating skin and being absorbed systemically (into the blood).
Notes: CO2 Select Extract
Constituents: A sample expression of Calamus Root, from an analysis of 4 samples from various regions in Nepal (tetraploid): β-asarone (78.1%-86.9%), α-asarone (1.9%-9.9%), ϒ-asarone (2.0-2.3%), (Z)-methyl isoeugenol (1.5-2.0%), and linalool (0.2-4.3%). 52 other compounds in minor amounts were also found (Satyal, 2013)
~ Be Blessed ~
- Abel, G. Chromosome damaging effect on human lymphocytes by β-asarone. Planta Med, 53(3), 251-253. 1987. FDA Poisonous Plant Database. http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/plantox/detail.cfm?id=273 Accessed 2/27/14
- Chen QX, Miao JK, Li C, Li XW, Wu XM, Zhang XP. Anticonvulsant activity of acute and chronic treatment with a-asarone from Acorus gramineus in seizure models. BiolHYPERLINK “http://0-www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.library.touro.edu/pubmed/23075695” Pharm Bull. 2013;36(1):23-30. Epub 2012 Oct 18.
- European Commission of Health & Consumer Protection Directorate-General. Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Food on the presence of β-asarone in flavourings and other food ingredients with flavouring properties. 2001. http://ec.europa.eu/food/fs/sc/scf/out111_en.pdf Accessed 2/27/2014
- Han P, Han T, Peng W, Wang XR. Antidepressant-like effects of essential oil and asarone, a major essential oil component from the rhizome of Acorus tatarinowii. Pharm Biol. 2013 May;51(5):589-94. doi: 10.3109/13880209.2012.751616. Epub 2013 Jan 31.
- Kim WJ, Hwang KH, Park DG, Kim TJ, Kim DW, Choi DK, Moon WK, Lee KH. Major constituents and antimicrobial activity of Korean herb Acorus calamus. Nat Prod Res. 2011 Aug;25(13):1278-81. doi: 10.1080/14786419.2010.513333. Epub 2011 Jun 27.
- Kumar R, Prakash O, Pan AK, Hore SK, Chanotiya CS, Mathela CS. Compositional variations and anthelmentic activity of essential oils from rhizomes of different wild populations of Acorus calamus L. and its major component, beta-Asarone. Nat Prod. 2009 Feb;4(2):275-8.
- Kumari R, Agrawal SB, Singh S, Dubey NK. Supplemental ultraviolet-B induced changes in essential oil composition and total phenolics of Acorus calamus L. (sweet flag). Ecotoxicol 2009 Oct;72(7):2013-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2009.02.006. Epub 2009 Mar 24.
- Liu XC, Zhou LG, Liu ZL, Du SS. Identification of insecticidal constituents of the essential oil of Acorus calamus rhizomes against Liposcelis bostrychophila Badonnel. Molecules. 2013 May 15;18(5):5684-96. doi: 10.3390/molecules18055684.
- Satyal P, Paudel P, Poudel A, Dosoky NS, Moriarity DM, Vogler B, Setzer WN. Chemical compositions, phytotoxicity, and biological activities of Acorus calamus essential oils from Nepal. Nat Prod 2013 Aug;8(8):1179-81.