Acorus calamus, commonly known as Sweet flag is a plant typically found in marginal water areas, wetlands, alongside ponds, and in marshy areas.
It favours moist, boggy sites and can be found in various regions across the British Isles, thriving in the wet, mild climate.
The tender core of young roots (rhizome) is suitable for salads, and the lower part of the stem is ideal for candying.
The root can be candied, eaten raw, roasted, or used as a spice substitute for ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It also imparts flavour to tea.
The young and tender flowers and the inner portion of young stems are edible, making a palatable salad.
The leaves contain oxalic acid and are cooked or used to flavour custards.
However, it is important to exercise caution due to the plant’s potential toxicity. The essential oil in the root contains asarone, a compound with potential carcinogenic properties. See here, here and here.
While these studies provide strong evidence for the genotoxic and carcinogenic potential of asarone, further research is needed to determine its specific effects in humans.
European varieties of Acorus calamus have significantly lower levels of asarone than Indian-Chinese varieties, reducing the concern in European plants.
In culinary uses, calamus oil flavours liqueurs, cordials, bitters, ice cream, soft drinks, and vinegar.
Leaves and stalks of the plant, with a delicate tangerine tang, are used to flavour milk puddings and can substitute for orange zest.
Despite some concerns about its constituents, Acorus calamus has a rich history in herbal remedies and culinary practices, valued for its unique flavour and potential health benefits.
Its versatility in flavouring various dishes and drinks highlights its importance in traditional and modern cuisine.