Vekhand (Sweet flag): Ayurvedic superfoods

Every country has their own traditional medicine systems. Vacha or Acorus calamus (Safed vach, Vekhand) is described in most of the traditional medicine systems, and has various uses. It has bitter pungent taste and a strong aroma. Vacha is hot in potency. A rhizome that resembles like ginger is used for medication.

Calamus seed box in botanical garden

Traditional Ayurvedic Benefits:

Ayurveda has described a range of benefits and function of Vacha in improving health, as well as preventing and curing illnesses. As per Ayurveda, Vacha balances Vata and Kapha doshas. In Charak Samhita, it is described as Lekhaniya (scrapes excessive body fat), Arshoghna (heals piles), Sheet prashamana (relieves cold).
Vacha improves digestive fire and digestion. This in turn helps in digestion of internal toxins or Aam dosha. Hence, Vacha is used for Body Detox in internal medicine. It reduces digestive issues such as bloating caused due to imbalanced Vata dosha, relieves constipation, and clears out bowel. It is also said to remove worms and external pathogens from the body.
Vacha has Medhya properties, it improves cognition, intelligence and memory function of brain. With balancing abnormal movement of Vata dosha, it also reduces nervous problems such as Unmad (Mania) and Apasmar (Epilepsy). In Ayurveda, it is described as Vacha reduces increased Kapha dosha and is also used in treating asthma. It reduces pain and swelling, fever and bodyache. It is also indicated in syphilis.
Along with removing excess fat from body, it also stimulates sweating, hence used in weight loss treatment. Vacha improves speech and voice tone, and hence in folk medicine, it is tied around children’s neck by tying in the thread. Vacha induces uterine contractions, and is indicated in dysmenorrhoea.

Root of Acorus calamus

Home remedies:

  • In cough and cold, rub the powder on your chest (very effective in children as well), you will get an immediate relief .
  • For obesity, the Vacha powder is also used as a body scrub and massage.
  • A paste of Vacha powder and water can be applied to the skin for a glowing skin and controlling various skin infections
  • Applying Vacha essential oil added with Sesame oil externally on joints reduces pain and inflammation.
  • Application of Vacha powder with Triphala powder reduces fat on the belly and thighs.
  • To manage anxiety, depression and stress: Take 1-2 pinches of Vacha churna with honey 2 hours after taking food twice a day.
  • For hypersensitive skin, apply Vacha root paste mixed with honey or milk.

Recommended dosage:

  • Vacha Powder – 1/2-1 teaspoon or as indicated by your physician.
  • Vacha Oil – 2-3 drops or as indicated by your physician.

Chemical composition of Vacha (Acorus calamus):

Studies have shown that α- and β-asarones are the major active components in the extracts of different plant parts and essential oils. Some other constituents like caryophyllene, isoasarone, methyl isoeugenol and safrol are also present in lesser amounts in the extracts of rhizomes and roots. It has been seen that β-asarone showed beneficial effects in cognitive impairment associated disorders such as, Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).

Vacha powder

Effects of Acorus calamus extracts:

Anti-inflammatory effect: Ethanolic extract of A. calamus rhizome displayed anticellular and immunomodulatory properties. and inhibits the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines through multiple mechanisms.

Anti-lipid effect: The saponins found in extract of A. calamus reduce fats from blood. The water extract of Acorus calamus at high concentration also shows this hypolipidemic activity. Beta- Asarone present in Acorus calamus reduces triglyceride levels in cells by stimulating the breakdown of fats in fat cells.

Antibacterial and antifungal effect: α- and β-asarone in the leaf and rhizome extract of Acorus calamus show marked antifungal activity. The active constituent β-asarone has also antibacterial as well as anthelmintic (worms) properties. Commercial α- and β-asarones were also found to be more effective than the leaf and rhizome extracts.

Antidiabetic activities: Traditionally, the radix of A. calamus is being used in the therapy of diabetes in traditional folk medicine of America and Indonesia. Recent studies have reported that Acorus calamus lowers the increased blood sugar post-meals and complications of heart and blood vessels.

Neuroprotective: Free radicals and other ROS are an important causative factor in the development of neurodegenerative disorders. Several studies have found that the antioxidant activities of extract of Acorus calamus leaves and rhizomes have been useful in protection of nervous system from disorders such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease.

To summarize, Acorus calamus is found be anti-inflammatory/immunosuppressive, anti-adipogenic, antimicrobial, fungicidal, insulin sensitizing/antidiabetic, neuroprotective. Detailed studies involving clinical trials in human subject are needed.

Safety precautions before use:

Ayurvedic view: Avoid taking Vacha if you have excessive Pitta in the body.

Modern medicine view: Apply Vacha to a small area first to test for possible allergic reactions. Or use it only under doctor’s supervision if you are allergic to Vacha or its constituents.

Safety as food item: Even though Acorus calamus is used extensively in Indian medicine, U.S food and Drug administration has considered it to be unsafe for human consumption since 1968, based upon cancerous tumours found in laboratory animals when treated with β-asarone – and some adverse effects like disturbed digestion, gastroenteritis, persistent constipation followed by diarrhoea and passage of blood into the faeces were observed in some studies. Scientific Committee on Food evaluated beta asarone in 2001 and concluded that beta asarone has a weak carcinogenic effect but did not rule out the possibility of genotoxicity.

The Council of Europe Committee of Experts on Flavouring substances recommended limits of β-asarone as 0.1mg/kg in foods and beverages with the exceptions of 1mg/kg in Alcoholic beverages containing Acorus calamus. European Medicines Agency has suggested an exposure limit of 115 μg/day (2 μg/kg bw/day) for β-asarone in herbal medicinal products.

In view of the toxicity of β-asarone, attempts are being done to reduce its concentration in herbal medicinal products to a minimum extent and diploid varieties like American diploid variety of calamus without β-asarone is always preferred for therapeutics and other industries.

Shodhan (Purification of Vacha):

As per the classical reference, the rhizomes are to be boiled successively in Gomutra (Cow’s urine), Alambusha and Panchapallava kwatha followed by bashpa swedana (fomentation) using Surabhitoya. Additionally, Vacha rhizomes are soaked in appropriate amount of Cow’s milk for overnight, then washed in warm water and dried in sun. Similarly, Vacha is soaked in Dadhi mastu for overnight, then washed in warm water and dried in sun.

Additional resources:

  1. Deepak Ganjewala and Ashwani Kumar Srivastava, 2011. An Update on Chemical Composition and Bioactivities of Acorus Species. Asian Journal of Plant Sciences, 10: 182-189.
  2. Amarendra Patra and Alok K. Mitra, 1984. Constituents of Acorus calamus: Structure of Acoramone. Carbon-13 NMR Spectra of Cis- and Trans-Asarone. Journal of natural products. 1981, 44, 6, 668–669.

About Author: Dr.Prasad Gokhale
1) B.A.M.S.
2) Certificate in Advance Panchakarma.
3) Kizuna project member (Joint venture of Indian and Japanese Government, 2013)
3) Certificate in German, Spanish.
4) Diploma in Russian.
5) J.L.P.T (N 3 level ) Japanese.
6) D.E.L.E.: A 1 Spanish.

Online ayurvedic consultant since 2010.
Registered Ayurvedic Medical Practitioner and Panchakarma expert, diet and lifestyle expert, Medical blogger, Youtuber(Voice of Ayurved), Ayurvedic educator. He has treated patients from 18 different countries.

Co-author: Dr. Leena Gaikwad, has a bachelor’s degree in Ayurvedic medicine, and master’s in Public Health. She is a public health researcher, interested in health promotion and prevention. Medical and travel blogger, lifestyle management and diet expert. Speaks English, Hindi, Marathi and Spanish.

(Above article is for information purposes only, kindly consult your doctor before trying home remedies.)

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