|Vasambu is a medicinal herb belonging to the family Acoraceae and the order Acorales. It is a monocot flowering plant that is botanically referred to as Acorus calamus, and it is called “sweet flag” in English. The leaves, stems, and roots are used in various Siddha and Ayurvedic medications. It is used in the treatment of various diseases associated with the stomach, especially in infants. It is also taken to increase intellectual power. As long-term use of the herb may cause vomiting and nausea, it is advisable to consult a doctor before consuming vasambu.
PLACE OF ORIGINIn India, vasambu is found in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and the Himalayan regions.
Unlike the traditional paddy crops that would be harmed by the submersion and heavy inundation caused by northeast monsoon rains, vasambu grows very well in waterlogged conditions. It is found in wetlands, particularly marshes, where it spreads by means of thick rhizomes, and on shorelines and floodplains where water levels fluctuate seasonally.
Confusion exists in the taxonomic literature over whether Acorus is native to North America or was introduced. The topic has being debated for years by botanists. Evidence based on studies of morphology, essential oil chemistry, cytology, isozymes, and ethnobotany supports the existence of two species in North America—Acorus calamus, an introduced sterile triploid, and Acorus americanus, a native fertile diploid.
The genus Acorus includes six species. They are:
1. Acorus calamus- It is commonly known as “sweet flag” or “calamus.” It is indigenous to India or Arabia. It is now found across Europe, southern Russia, northern Asia Minor, southern Siberia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Burma, Sri Lanka, and Australia, as well as southern Canada and the northern United States, where it may be confused with diploid Acorus americanus.
2. Acorus americanus- It is a wetland plant native to the northern United States and Canada. It is used in herbal medicine as a treatment for the inflammation of the eye.
3. Acorus gramineus- This species in native to Japan in eastern Asia. It spreads aggressively by rhizome, creating a ground cover where the conditions are favorable.
The other three species are (4) Acorus triqueter, (5) Acorus latifolius, and (6) Acorus xiangyeus.
The rhizome of the vasambu plant has a strong smell. Its taste is acrid and bitter. It is useful in improving memory power and intellect. It is also useful in improving digestion and clearing speech. Vasambu is used to treat asthma, diarrhea, dysentery, abdominal obstruction, epilepsy, headache, wounds, colic, piles, acid gastritis, heart, eye, ear and mouth diseases. It is also believed to cure infantile fever, cough, bronchitis, asthma, hysteria, and chronic rheumatic complaints.
The paste of the rhizome, mixed with ghee, is administered to infants among the first postnatal rituals of Indian mothers. It is believed to help in developing the intellect of the infant, and is used to treat gas, chest colds, and stomachaches in infants. Because of its medicinal value in infants, it is called pillai valarpan in Tamil, which means “the herb that protects babies”.
The vasambu plant is used in hair removal creams, along with turmeric. The aroma of calamus is valued in the perfume industry as well.
PRACTICE IN TAMIL NADU
Vasambu has been used for infants for many centuries in Tamil Nadu and some other parts of India. The vasambu is heated in a lamp lighted with gingelly oil until it turns black. The blackened part of the herb is rubbed on a stone with a small amount of water or mother’s milk that turns the black powder into a paste. This paste is used as pottu (a black dot kept on the forehead) for babies and it is also rubbed on their cheeks, legs, and palms. The aroma of the herb is smelled by the babies throughout the day and it is good for their health.
Vasambu is also cut into small circular pieces and then tied around the wrist of the infants. When the babies move their hands towards their face, the aroma will aid digestion.
Vasambu is gaining popularity all over the world. According to Indian farmers, “There will be no threat from cattle for the growth of the plant (vasambu). The plant is totally free from pest attack and disease and gives yield in 10 months. This gregarious herb with special characteristics is confined to marshy localities and propagated through rhizome cuttings. It has strongly aromatic leaves and rhizomes.”
Follow the procedure below for a preparation of vasambu that will treat gastroenterological problems.
1. Purchase vasambu from nearby Siddha shops.
Vasambu is sold at reasonable prices by various companies across the globe. It is also used in the preparation of medicine by various Ayurvedic pharmaceutical manufacturing companies. It is processed under hygenic conditions and widely distributed to various users.