Acorus calamus a.k.a. Sweet Flag by Brittany

Acorus calamus. Photograph © J. F. Gaffard, drawing © 1sagebrush1.

Lakota name: Hohwá (This word refers to the leaves; the leaves and stalks are eaten.)
sound iconListen to Lakota Plant Name: Hohw

Scientific name: Acorus calamus

Common name: sweet flag or calamus

Lakota medicinal use: pulverized, mixed with gunpowder, and used as a medicine for cramps of arms and legs.

Medicinal uses by other cultures:  Calamus root was used as a home remedy for colic.  The rhizomes of Acorus calamus contain aromatic oils that have been used medicinally since ancient times and have been harvested commercially. Native Americans exploited Acorus as a medicine and for ceremonial uses. Although this plant is cited in the ethnographic and ethnobotanical literature as Acorus calamus, the distribution of the tribes reported to use Acorus corresponds to the range of the native species.

The root is carminative, slightly tonic, and excitant, and forms a stimulant. It may be used in cases of flatulence, colic, atonic dyspepsia, feebleness of the digestive organs, and to aid the action of cinchona or quinine in intermittents. It forms an excellent substitute, in syrup, for Godfrey's cordial.  Externally, it is a valuable application to the skin, and to keep up the discharges from blistered surfaces and issues.

Active compounds produced by this plant:  Acorus calamus produces beta-asarone which is a genotoxic (capable of causing genetic mutation and contributing to tumors) phenylpropanoid (produced by plants for defense against herbivores and protection against ultra-violet rays).  In an experiment beta-asarone was shown to be active in inducing liver tumours.

Click on an image to view larger version & data in a new window
Click on an image to view larger version & data in a new window

Molecular structure of beta-asarone © 1sagebrush1

Description: Acorus calamus is a grass like perennial, pale to dark brown and spongy on the inside, up to 80 cm long, linear to narrowly ensiform or sword shaped, glossy bright green. Acorus calamus is sterile, due to the fact that it has a triploid number of chromosomes (having a chromosome number that is 3 times the basic or haploid number).

Similar species: Acorus gramineus, Acorus americanus

Flowering time: May to August

Habitat: streams banks and marshes


Wink, M. 1999. Functions of Plant Secondary Metabolites and Their Exploitation in Biotechnology. Annual Plant Reviews. Volume 3. CRC Press.

About This Page

Page: Tree of Life Acorus calamus a.k.a. Sweet Flag by Brittany The TEXT of this page is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License - Version 3.0. Note that images and other media featured on this page are each governed by their own license, and they may or may not be available for reuse. Click on an image or a media link to access the media data window, which provides the relevant licensing information. For the general terms and conditions of ToL material reuse and redistribution, please see the Tree of Life Copyright Policies.

 Treehouses are authored by students, teachers, science enthusiasts, or professional scientists. Anyone can sign up as a treehouse contributor and share their knowledge and enthusiasm about organisms. Treehouse contributions are checked for general accuracy and quality by teachers and ToL editors, but they are not usually reviewed by expert scientists. If you spot an error, please get in touch with the author or the teacher. For more information about quality control of Tree of Life content, see Status of Tree of Life Pages.

close box

This page is a treehouse that is attached to a branch of the Tree of Life.

Treehouses are ToL pages designed for children and the young at heart.

For a more detailed explanation of the different ToL page types, have a look at the Structure of the Tree of Life page.

close box


Treehouse Content

articles & notes




Explore Other Groups

random page

  go to the Tree of Life home page