Thursday 3 November 2011
My own little calamus plant is too small to grace these pages with an image, yet it happily grows stronger, gracing the boggy area of my little pond. So I thought a few words in its honour would be fitting. Acorus Calamus, commonly known in these parts as sweet sedge, has many uses. A vigorous reed-like plant, happy with its feet soaked in water, can be found, if one is lucky, in shallow edges of ponds, lakes and stream edges, wet ditches and marshy places, closely associated with reeds and bulrushes. In fact, according to Mrs Grieve, the Greek name calamos means 'a reed'. And very reed-like it is. Mrs Grieve goes onto explain that 'The generic name, Acorus, is from Acoron, the Greek name of the plant used by Dioscorides and said to be derived from Coreon (the pupil of the eye), diseases of which the ancients used this plant to cure.' It is not to be confused with the Calamus Draco, a slender palm of the East Indies which provides the marvellous resin Dragon's Blood.
Although its leaves resemble those of the 'Yellow Flag' and therefore answers to the name 'Sweet Flag' it is not related to the iris, but rather to the Arum family. Culpeper, according to Mrs Grieve, names it the 'Bastard Flag'. It is said to be a feminine plant of the moon and water, enlisting powers of healing and protection, and to aid one in acquiring luck and money. Cunningham indicates that calamus 'brings good luck to the gardener' and can be used to 'strengthen and bind spells.'
Due to its pleasant odour, it was used as a strewing herb, covering the floor of churches and houses in place of rushes. However the sweet sedge didn't grow near London, and needed to be carried from as far as Suffolk and Norfolk for strewing, so was therefore considered rather extravagant. It was once a native of the marshes and mountains of India, yet now common throughout Europe. However it appears that the rhizomes grown in India are of a stronger, and more agreeable odour than those found here, therefore the calamus bought here in the UK, is not grown on these shores, but imported.
According to Wikipedia 'The calamus has long been a symbol of love. The name is associated with a Greek myth, Kalamos, son of the river-god Maeander, who loved the youth Karpos son of Zephyrus, (the West Wind) and Chloris (Spring). When Karpos drowned in a swimming race, Kalamos also drowned and was transformed into a reed, whose rustling in the wind was interpreted as a sign of lamentation.' It also appears that Walt Whitman uses calamus as a symbol for 'love and affection' in his Leaves of Grass (1860). The same Wikipedia article claims calamus has aphrodisiac qualities. This virtue, along with its association with unrequited love, could be one of the reasons it is a vital ingredient of follow-me-boy oil recipes compounded by its valuable attributes of strengthening and binding spells. Cat Yronwode indicates that 'calamus root controls people, breaks jinxes, and is lucky'. She indicates that if one wanted to control someone you could 'Mix CALAMUS and LICORICE with Commanding Powder, where you plan to meet someone you wish to control.'
Calamus is also mentioned in the Bible book of Exodus where it says: "Moreover The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Take thou also unto thee principle spices, of pure myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty shekels, and of sweet calamus two hundred and fifty shekels, And of cassia five hundred shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, and of olive oil a hin: And thou shalt make it an oil of holy ointment, an ointment compound after the art of the apothecary: it shall be a holy anointing oil." Exodus 30: 22-25) Interesting isn't it, that this 'holy anointing oil' would hold, as we have seen, powers of controlling, but controlling who, and by whom, m'thinks. (You might recognise the recipe as that for Abra-melin Oil).
I will certainly tend and protect my very young calamus, yet another very useful aid to be on the right side of.