Sweet flag was known as sweet rush and highly prized as a strewing herb, covering the floors and filling the rooms with its sweet scent. It was also believed to cure eye trouble.
Sweet flag, acorus calamus, is a tall, fragrant, waterside plant growing wild in marshes, by ponds and streams, ditches and lakes. The flat, sword-like leaves are pinkish at the base, very long and very pointed. They grow from a thick round-shaped rhizome. The leaves look rather like those of an iris, but have their own distinctive crimped edges and soft fragrance. The flowers, which bloom in June and July, are stalked and grow in the axils of the leaves. They are a dense spike of tiny, greeny-yellow flowers. The whole plant, including the rhizome, is sweetly scented.
In the kitchen a fresh leaf can be used to flavour an egg custard or a syrup for fruit salad. The leaf should be removed before serving. The dried roots have a strong warm taste and are frequently used in the manufacture of confectionery. The oil extracted from calamus root is widely employed in medicines, perfumes and cosmetics.
The sweet flag only sets seed in India, its country of origin. Elsewhere it is propagated by dividing the rhizomes in early spring and planting in the mud near water. Sweet flag can be grown in the garden where it will need rich moist soil and plenty of watering. It is well worth growing for its fragrance alone, although its exotic appearance makes it a welcome sight.
The rhizomes and leaves are the parts of the plant used in the home. The leaves are used when fresh and have a pleasant sweet taste rather like an orange. The rhizomes are collected in the autumn from two- or three-year-old plants. They are difficult to dry at home because of their high moisture content. The dried calamus root, as it is called, can be purchased from some chemists or health food stores.
Sweet flag is an invigorating, strengthening herb and helps the stomach to function properly. It stimulates the digestive system and the metabolism and helps to relieve flatulence. It is a good all round tonic and a remedy for nervous complaints such as vertigo, dizziness, fainting and headaches.
* To make an infusion: Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 tablespoon of dried calamus root. In fuse for 5 minutes and strain the liquid carefully through fine muslin or cheesecloth.
The infusion can also be used warm as a gargle to relieve a sore throat.
* Candied whole calamus root, chewed or sucked, will help sufferers from indigestion and flatulence.
Sweet flag can be added to the bath water to provide a stimulating, invigorating bath — which should not be taken at night.
* To make a herbal bath: Add directly to the bath or tie a small muslin or cheesecloth bag of dried root to the hot tap (faucet) when running the bath. Use the bag afterwards to rub on to the skin.