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Calamus (Acorus calamus)

Calamus (Acorus calamus) Image
Synonyms / Common Names / Related Terms
α-amophene, α-asarone, α-cadinol, α-cedrene, α-copaene, α-E-bergamotene, α-funebrene, α-humulene, α-muurolene, α-neocallitropsene, α-phellandrene, α-pinene, α-selinene, α-terpineol, α-thujene, Acoraceae (family), acorenone, Acori graminei rhizoma, acorone, Acorus calamus L., Acorus calamus L. essential oils, Acorus calamus Linn. var. angustatus Bess, Acorus calamus var. angustatus Bess, Acorus gramineus Sol. ex Aiton, Acorus gramineus Soland, Acorus tatarinowii, Acorus tatarinowii Schott, alkaloids, allo-aromadendr-9-ene, ar-curcumene, Araceae (family), aromatic calamus, asarone, β-acoradiene, β-asarone, β-cedrene, β-copaene, β-curcumene, β-elemene, β-funebrene, β-pinene, β-selinene, β-sesquiphellandrene, bach, benzoic acid phenylmethyl ester, benzyl benzoate, bicyclogermacrene, bornyl acetate, calamendiol, calamenone, Calamus aromaticus, calamus rhizome, calarene, camphene, camphor, caryophyllene, cedrol, changpo, changpo oil, cinnamon sedge, dehydroxy-isocalamendiol, dihydrocarveyl acetate, E-β-ocimene, E-nerolidol, ethyl hexadecanoate, flagroot, flavonoids, γ-amorphene, γ-elemene, γ-guaiene, γ-sitosterol, γ-terpinene, germacrene A, gladdon, grass myrtle, gums, iso-acorone, iso-shyobunone, isoacoramone, isocalamendiol, kamseh-chang, khusiol, lectins, limonene, linalool, lin-ne, methyl linoleate, mucilage, myrcene, myrtle flag, myrtle sedge, n-butylidene dihydrophthalide, n-hexadecanoic acid, nonanyl acetate, octanoic acid, ρ-cymene, phenols, phenylpropanes, preiso calamendiol, prezizaene, quinone, rat root, rattan palm, Romanian Acorus calamus L., sabinene, saponins, shi chang pu, shuichangpu, squamulosone, sugars, sweet calamus, sweet cane, sweet flag, sweet grass, sweet myrtle, sweet root, sweet rush, sweet sedge, sweetflag, sweetflag oil, τ-cadinol, tannins, terpinene-4-ol, terpinolene, torilenol, triterpenes, ugragandha, vacha, vaj, vekhand, Z-β-farnesene, Z-β-ocimene, Z-isoeugenol.

Mechanism of Action


  • Constituents: Calamus (as various extracts of the rhizome) contains constituents such as alkaloids, flavonoids, gums, lectins, mucilage, phenols, quinone, saponins, sugars, tannins, and triterpenes (steroids).27,1,11,2,31 Calamenone (a tricyclic sesquiterpene) as well as calamendiol and isocalamendiol (both sesquiterpenes) also occur in the roots.35 The oil's constituents include acoramone and phenylpropane derivatives (α-asarone, β-asarone, γ-asarone, isoeugenol, and methyl ether.36,37 As a product of supercritical extraction from the rhizomes, the oil contained as major constituents acorenone (13.4%), iso-acorone (11.6%), Z-sesquilavandulol (11%), dehydroxy isocalamendiol (7.7%), and β-asarone (5.5%).38 The essential oil's main constituent differed for calamus as two phylogenetically different types. In one type of calamus, Z-asarone was a major constituent of the essential oil, whereas the other type predominately contained sesquiterpenoids.39
  • Active constituents include flavonoids, lectins, phenols, and saponins. There was detection of flavonoids and phenols as inhibitors of the growth of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus; in an alcoholic extract with this antibacterial action, flavonoids and phenols were the major active constituents.1 Lectins had mitogenic action on mononuclear cells from the peripheral blood of healthy humans and on murine splenocytes (macrophages of murine spleen). With lectins, there also was inhibition of the growth of some neoplastic cell lines from mice.11 Saponins produced effects against hyperlipdemia in rats.31
  • The carcinogen, β-asarone, occurs varyingly in calamus.26,25,40,41,37,42 In calamus (with diploidy) from the wetlands of the United States, the rhizomes contained 0.2% w/w β-asarone, whereas a content of 4.4% w/w β-asarone was in the rhizomes of commercially available calamus (which had triploidy) from India.25 β-asarone differed in abundance in the respective alcoholic extracts of the rhizomes of calamus with either diploidy or triploidy. In the extract of calamus with triploidy, β-asarone was the constituent in most abundance (11.2% of chemical composition), whereas it and α-asarone were absent in the extract of calamus with diploidy.26
  • This extract (calamus with diploidy) contained the following constituents, in percentage of chemical composition vs. that for the extract of calamus with triploidy: 4-α-hydroxygermacra-1(10),5-diol (1.6% vs. 1.8%), 4-epi-acorenone (0.4% vs. 0.2%), 9,12-octadecadienoic acid (Z, Z) (0.4% vs. 0%), 9.12.15-octadecatrienoic acid, ethyl ester. (Z.Z.Z) (0.1% vs. 0.8%), α-amophene (0.1% vs. 0%), α-cadinol (0.7% vs. 0%), α-cedrene (0.2% vs. 0%), α-copaene (traces vs. traces), α-E-bergamotene (0.9% vs. 0.5%), α-funebrene (traces vs. 0.1%), α-humulene (0% vs. 0.6%), α-muurolene (0% vs. 0.1%), α-neocallitropsene (0.3% vs. 0.4%), α-pinene (traces vs. 0.4%), α-selinene (1.5 % vs. 5%), α-terpineol (0% vs. traces), α-thujene (0% vs. traces), acora-3,7(11)-dien-8-one (0.5% vs. 0%), acorenone (5.3% vs. 9.3%), acorone (26.3% vs. 8.4%), allo-aromadendr-9-ene (0.2% vs. 0.4%), ar-curcumene (0.3% vs. traces), β-acoradiene (0.3% vs. 0.2%), β-cedrene (0.8% vs. 1.6%), β-copaene (0.6% vs. 0%), β-curcumene (0.1% vs. traces), β-elemene (0.1% vs. 0%), β-funebrene (1.6% vs. 0.9%), β-pinene (0.1% vs. 0.1%), β-selinene (0% vs. 0.2%), β-sesquiphellandrene (3.3% vs. 2.7%), bicyclogermacrene (0.2% vs. 0%), bornyl acetate (0.2% vs. 0.1%), calarene (0% vs. 1.4%), camphene (traces vs. 2.3%) camphor (0% vs. 1.5%), caryophyllene (1.2% vs. 0.9%), cedrol (0.5% vs. 0.5%), dehydroxy-isocalamendiol (0.3% vs. 0%), dihydrocarveyl acetate (0.1% vs. 0%), E-β-ocimene (0% vs. 3.3%), E-nerolidol (1.3% vs. 0.4%), ethyl hexadecanoate (0% vs. 2.4%), γ-amorphene (0.3% vs. 0.9%), γ-guaiene (0% vs. 0.4%), γ-sitosterol (0.1% vs. 2.6%), γ-terpinene (0% vs. traces), germacrene A (0.3% vs. 0.3%), iso-acorone (1.3% vs. 0.1%), iso-shyobunone (8.6% vs. 6.9%), khusiol (0.1% vs. 5.9%), limonene (traces vs. 0.3%), linalool (0% vs. 0.5%), methyl linoleate (0.5% vs. 4.6%), myrcene (traces vs. traces), n-hexadecanoic acid (0.2% v. 0%), nonanyl acetate (traces vs. 0%), ρ-cymene (0% vs. traces), preiso calamendiol (22.8% vs. 7.8%), prezizaene (0.7% vs. 0.4%), sabinene (0% vs. 0.2%), squamulosone (0.1% vs. 0%), τ-cadinol (0.3% vs. 2%), terpinene-4-ol (0% vs. 0.1%), terpinolene (()% vs. 0.1%), torilenol (0.1% vs. 1.8%), Z-β-farnesene (1.7% vs. 1.2%), Z-β-ocimene (()% vs. 0.3%), and Z-isoeugenol (traces vs. 0%).26
  • In other species of Acoraceae (Acorus calamus var. Augustatus Bess, Acorus gramineus Solander, Acorus tatarinowii Schott), there are also some known constituents. Acorus calamus var. Augustatus Bess (as oil from fresh leaves) contains octanoic acid (49.13%), α-cedrene (16.71%), α-phellandrene, (4.46%), and γ-elemene (3.75%) as constituents in most abundance. In terms of headspace of the fresh leaves, the main constituents are n-butylidene dihydrophthalide (8.61 %,), trans, trans-farnesyl acetate (7.29%), and trans-2-dodecenal (7%). This herb also contains the aromatic constituent cis-β-farnesene.43 Acorus gramineus Solander, as an extract (methanol) from dry rhizomes, contains asarone, which inhibits excitotoxicity in cortical cultures.44 An extract of A. gramineus contained β-asarone, which inhibited in vitro mycelial growth of some pathogenic fungi in plants.30 A fraction (hexane) of another extract (methanol) contained as the active principle a liquid that mostly consisted of benzyl benzoate. In combination with ampicillin or chloramphenicol, benzyl benzoate inhibited in vitro resistance of Staphylococcus aureus that was resistant to multiple drugs.28 The leaves' major volatile constituent is cis-asarone.45 Acorus tatarinowii Schott (as the essential oil) contains α-asarone.46 The roots contain phenylpropanes (isoacoramone and (cis) epoxyasarone) and a mixture of (threo) 1',2'-dihydroxyasarone and (erythro) 1',2'-dihydroxyasarone.47
  • Anesthetic effects: Guinea pigs and rabbits did not evidence local anesthetic effects with an alcoholic extract of roots and rhizomes.23
  • Antibacterial effects: In vitro antibacterial action (in terms of zone of inhibition of bacterial growth) against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and strains of gram-negative bacteria (Escherichia coli, Shigella dysenteriae, S. sonnei) that produced β-lactamase occurred with an alcoholic extract of the rhizome.1,27 These antibacterial actions speculatively relate to the extract's constituents, such as flavonoids and phenols, that are active against MRSA.1,27 Of three fractions of the extract, potency (in terms of minimum inhibitory concentration for MRSA) apparently was most with the fraction with acetone.1,27 There was in vitro synergism on the MIC for MRSA following the combination of that fraction and the respective alcoholic extract of the stem of Hemidesmus indicus or the bark of Holarrhena antidysenterica (each as the fraction with acetone) or the root of Plumbago zeylanica as the fraction with ethyl acetate. In addition, for S. aureus with antibiotic sensitivity to methicillin, there was synergistic interaction (in terms of zone of inhibition of bacterial growth) between the crude extract of calamus and either cefuroxime, chloramphenicol, or tetracycline1. For a certain strain of E. coli that produced β-lactamase, there was in vitro synergism (in terms of zone of inhibition of bacterial growth) between the respective crude extracts of calamus and either H. antidysenterica or P. zeylanica, between the respective crude extracts of H. indicus and calamus, and between the crude extract of calamus and either tetracycline or ciprofloxacin.27 With Acorus gramineus Soland (not calamus), as a fraction (hexane) of an extract (methanol), in combination with ampicillin or chloramphenicol, there was evidence of inhibitory action against multiple resistant S. aureus. The active principle was a liquid that mostly contained benzyl benzoate.28
  • Anticancer effects: Although the chemical constituent, β-asarone, has documented carcinogenic effects, anticarcinogenic activation of α-asarone has been reported on human carcinoma cells.32
  • Anticholinesterase effects: In vitro inhibition of acetylcholinesterase occurred with an extract (methanol) of the cut root. This action speculatively related to calamus's essential oil, which reportedly was the active principle for neural protective effects. For inhibition of acetylcholinesterase, IC50 was measurable for the extract, as well as for the aqueous fraction of a partition of the rhizome in water and dichloromethylene, but not for the fraction with dichloromethylene.24
  • Anticonvulsive effects: Acorus gramineus and Acorus tatarinowii (both not calamus) produced anticonvulsive effects in animal studies. With prior inhalation in mice, A. gramineus (as the essential oil from dry rhizomes) delayed production of convulsions by pentylenetetrazole. Anticonvulsant action speculatively occurred through enhancement of the concentration of γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, given that there was inhibition of the activity of GABA transaminase (which degrades GABA) as the period lengthened for inhalation of the essential oil, and that with prior inhalation of the essential oil, the concentration of GABA increased while that of glutamate decreased in murine brain. In addition, with prior inhalation of the essential oil, there was inhibition of lipid peroxidation so that anticonvulsant action may relate to the essential oil, as an antioxidant.4 A. tatarinowii (as the volatile oil) has anticonvulsant action that may occur through modulation of the balance of excitatory and inhibitory amino acid, which was a property of the volatile oil in epileptic rats.14 As extracts of the rhizome, a decoction and the volatile oil each prevented convulsions, although the volatile oil was less effective for convulsions that pentylenetetrazole induced. In the prolonged pentylenetetrazole kindling model, both extracts could prevent GABA-ergic neuronal damage, related to convulsions, in the brain.29
  • Antidiabetic potential: In a study that screened herbal extracts as activators of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors, such activity, as an effect that depended on concentration, was shown for an alcoholic extract of calamus.12
  • Antidiarrheal effects: During the four hours after mice ingested castor oil for production of diarrhea, there were increases in time of onset of diarrhea and decreases in total number of feces, number of wet feces, and total weight of wet feces for those mice with prior consumption of an extract (methanol or water) of the rhizome. Diarrhea did not occur with the large dose of the extract with methanol.13
  • Antifungal effects: In plants, β-asarone, as an isolate of Acorus gramineus (not calamus), completely inhibited mycelial growth of some pathogenic fungi whereas in others, slight suppression occurred.30 Calamus's leaves contain a class III haem peroxidase which, in the host's defense against pathogenic fungi, may inhibit hyphal growth of such invasive pathogens in plants.5
  • Antihyperlipidemic effects: In rats that consumed an atherogenic diet for 45 days, there were decreases in the respective concentrations of cholesterol and triglycerides, and increases in the concentration of high density lipoprotein in serum of those rats that took either an alcoholic or an aqueous extract (of the roots and rhizomes) at a certain dosage for 30 days during the period of the atherogenic diet. These effects apparently were less with the aqueous extract. Such effects also occurred in rats that instead consumed saponins, constituents of calamus, that were isolates from the alcoholic extract. This indicates that saponins contribute to calamus's action against dyslipidemia.31,16
  • Anti-inflammatory effects: In a study that screened various plants' alcoholic extracts as possible anti-inflammatories (on the basis of evaluation with trypsin and β-glucoronidase inhibition assays), an alcoholic extract of calamus had moderate antiproteolytic activity toward trypsin's induction of hydrolysis of bovine serum albumin, and that extract evidenced indication of inhibition of β-glucoronidase.6
  • Antioxidant effects: Antioxidant action occurred with an extract of the rhizome.7 In a study that screened various plants' alcoholic extracts as possible antioxidants, calamus scavenged hydroxyl radicals, as well as radicals in the 2,2-diphenyl-1-picryl hydrazine reduction assay, and the extract inhibited polyphenol oxidase. Estimates indicated that with the extract there were appreciable amounts of vitamin C and total polyphenols.6 In rats, after 30 days of exposure to white noise for four hours a day, there were decreases in lipid peroxidation and activity of superoxide dismutase in various parts of the brain (cerebral cortex, cerebellum, midbrain, pons and medulla oblongata, hippocampus, hypothalamus) in the rats that had daily prior intraperitoneal injection with either an extract (ethyl acetate or methanol) of the rhizome or commercially available α-asarone, a constituent of calamus; concurrent increases occurred in the respective activities of catalase and glutathione peroxidase as well as in the respective concentrations of glutathione, protein thiol, vitamin C, and vitamin E. Through such actions against the effects from the stress of noise, calamus speculatively has the potential for production of an increase in the capacity for the action of antioxidants in the brain so that this herb substantially lessens changes that the given stress induces in the brains of rats.8,33 This effect may relate to α-asarone, which apparently has action as an antioxidant. Besides such effects in biochemistry, histologic analysis showed normal features in the tissues of cerebral cortex from rats with daily intraperitoneal injection of a certain dose of α-asarone before exposure to white noise for four hours a day over 30 days whereas in the cerebral cortex of rats that only had this exposure to noise, there was reduction in the size of nerve cells, as well as histological disturbance of the cortical layers.33 In the model of middle cerebral artery occlusion in rats, lipid peroxidation decreased in the cerebral cortex, the concentration of glutathione increased in the cerebral cortex and striate body, and there were increases in the activity of superoxide dismutase in the cerebral cortex and striate body at 72 hours after occlusion in those rats that ingested an extract (alcohol and water in the proportion of 1:1) of the rhizomes for five days prior to, and for three days following the technique of middle cerebral artery occlusion.10 With the extract in combination with acrylamide, there were increases in the content of glutathione and the activity of glutathione-S-transferase in the striate body, whereas these decreased with acrylamide by itself.22 Acorus gramineus (not calamus), as the essential oil from the dry rhizomes, inhibited lipid peroxidation in mice that inhaled the essential oil before induction of convulsions with pentylenetetrazole.4
  • Antiproliferative effects: In some neoplastic cell lines of mice, there was inhibition of growth of these cells in cultures with calamus's constituent of lectins, which were isolates from an extract of the rhizomes.11 However, calamus's antiproliferative effect apparently is not specific to any cells, given that inhibition of proliferation occurred in various human and murine cell lines in cultures with an alcoholic extract of the rhizome.34
  • Antispasmodic effects: In vitro antispasmodic action was shown in a preparation of rabbits' isolated jejunem in which a crude extract of calamus inhibited contractions that occurred spontaneously or through induction with potassium. The antispasmodic effect speculatively occurred through blockade of calcium channels, which was a particular action of the extract as the fraction with n-hexane. This fraction may contain at least one constituent that can block calcium channels so that antispasmodic action results.9
  • Antitoxic effects: In rats, nickel induced nephrotoxicity that prophylactic calamus countered. With prior ingestion of calamus for one week, there was reduction of creatinine in serum, blood urea nitrogen, and activity of renal ornithine decarboxylase. Renal oxidative stress diminished with prophylactic calamus; there were decreases in the content of glutathione in the kidney, glutathione-S-transferase, glutathione reductase, lipid peroxidation, and in generation of hydrogen peroxide, as well as restoration of the activity of glutathione peroxidase. Prophylactic calamus decreased nickel's increase in the synthesis of deoxyribonucleic acid in the kidney.15
  • CNS effects: In a study that screened for effects on the CNS in rats and mice, there were similarities and differences in the actions of an alcoholic extract of the rhizomes and α-asarone, an active constituent of calamus.48 With prior inhalation in mice, Acorus gramineus (not calamus), as the essential oil from the dry rhizomes, progressively prolonged the time of sleep that pentobarbital produced as the time lengthened for inhalation of the essential oil.4
  • Gastrointestinal effects: In rats, Acorus tatarinowii (not calamus) contributed to the inhibition of gastrointestinal myoelectric action, which speculatively occurs through blockade of muscarinic receptors.49
  • Immunomodulatory effects: In vitro immunosuppressive actions were shown for an alcoholic extract of the rhizome, but another extract's constituent of lectins had mitogenic action. Inhibition occurred for proliferation of humans' mononuclear cells (from peripheral blood) in a culture with a mitogen (phytohemagglutinin [PHA]) or an antigen (purified protein derivative of tuberculin) and the alcoholic extract. There was inhibition of production of interleukin-2 and tumor necrosis factor-α in a culture of the human T lymphocytes (mononuclear cells from peripheral blood) with the extract and PHA for stimulation of production of interleukin-2 or lipopolysaccharide (LPS) for stimulation of production of tumor necrosis factor-α. Tac antigen (CD25) was of less detectable presence as a cell surface marker in human whole blood after incubation with the extract and a stimulant (PHA or phorbol-12-myristate-13-acetate) for CD25. Nitric oxide, which has functionality in the immune system, evidenced inhibition of its production in a cell line of murine macrophage after incubation with the extract in a certain concentration and LPS for stimulation of production of nitric oxide.34 However, lectins, which were constituents of another extract of rhizomes, had mitogenic action on T lymphocytes. Mitogenic action occurred in mononuclear cells from peripheral blood of healthy humans and in murine splenocytes (macrophages of murine spleen) in respective cultures with lectins. In addition interleukin-2 increased in a culture of murine splenocytes and lectins.11
  • Insect repellency: The oil has action as a repellent to Rhyzopertha dominica, the lesser grain borer. As a disclaimer, the secondary literature reported this effect of calamus.
  • Insecticidal effects: Calamus is a potential larvacide.19,20,21 With exposure to an alcoholic extract of the roots, there was larvicidal action on the housefly, fleshfly (Chrysomyia bezziana), and culex (Culex quinquefasciatus).19,20 Aedes aegypti was another mosquito that was subject to the larvicidal action of an alcoholic extract of calamus.18 Mortality occurred in adult female A. aegypti during three hours of exposure to a fraction (hexane) of an extract (methanol) of the rhizome.17
  • Motor effects: In mice, there was antagonism of spontaneous motor activity with an alcoholic extract of the roots and rhizomes.23
  • Muscular effects: In a study that included in vitro preparations of frogs' skeletal muscle and heart, an alcoholic extract of the roots and rhizomes inhibited, in rectus muscle, contractions from caffeine citrate, and the extract produced negative inotropic and chronotropic effects.23
  • Neurologic effects: In the model of middle cerebral artery occlusion in rats, calamus's neural protective effects were attributable to the herb's action of modulation of antioxidant capacity. The following effects evidenced neural protection in those rats that ingested an extract (alcohol and water in the proportion of 1:1) of the rhizomes for five days prior to, and for three days following, the technique of middle cerebral artery occlusion. There was a better score on a scale of behavioral rating at 72 hours after occlusion. At 24 hours after occlusion, performance was superior on the rota rod (increase in time to fall) as well as for subjects walking on a grid (increase in total number of paired steps in one minute, decrease in total number of errors in placement of forelimbs). Histologic analysis showed that in coronal sections of the whole brain at 72 hours after occlusion, there was contralateral hemispheric infarction to the extent of 19% with the extract, whereas it otherwise was 33%.10 With the extract in combination with acrylamide, an agent that induced paralysis of the hind limbs in rats, such paralysis decreased in frequency in rats.22 In a culture of cortical neurons, Acorus gramineus (not calamus), as the essential oil from rhizomes, evidenced neural protective effects through blockade of the activity of NMDA receptors.3 That essential oil's main constituent, asarone, inhibited excitotoxicity from NMDA or glutamate; this neural protective action may occur through blockade of NMDA receptors.44 An animal study showed action as a sedative and tranquilizer, as effects of an alcoholic extract of the roots and rhizomes of calamus, although it was less potent than chlorpromazine.23


  • Insufficient available evidence.


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