Phalaris arundinacea - Reed Canary GrassFAMILY: Gramineae: Poaceae

GENUS: Phalaris

SPECIES: Arundinacea

COMMON NAMES: Bentgrass, Reed Canary Grass, Glanzgras, Reed Grass

Phalaris arundinacea is a perennial grass with gray-green stalks that grow about 2 meters tall, long, wide leaves with rough edges, and spikelets that bear single flowers. The plant is a native of Canada, but that is also found in northern Europe and the northern half of the US. In the wild, it is usually found where there is purple loosestrife. It can grow over 6 feet tall and tends to form clumps. Fond of wetlands, it has been used in areas set up to filter sewage, but it also enjoys uplands and can survive drought. It grows best in moist, sandy soil and dislikes heat (so it doesn’t prosper in the Deep South). An aggressive plant, some consider it a weed, others an excellent forage crop. It reproduces through rhizomes or through copious seeds. The plant has recently been discovered to contain high concentrations of DMT, beta-carbolines, 5-MEO-demethyltryptamine, and trace amounts of bufotenine (Appleseed 1993).

Of the same species, Phalaris aquatica is a perennial grass that tends to grow along rivers and creek banks. Like P. arundinacea, this Phalaris speciesgrows from rhizomes (which look like a thick root found near the surface of the soil) and can form thick tussocks. It was introduced to the US from Australia as a forage plant for sheep and has become naturalized in California. Keeping the plant cut will increase its spread horizontally. This plant also contains high concentrations of DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, bufotenine (in fresh but not dried plants), and beta-carbolines. Alkaloid content is increased when the plant is stressed, especially if it wilts (without dying), but as with all the Phalaris plants, alkaloid content can vary not only from season to season but from plant to plant.  This strain is the one responsible for causing “Sheep Staggers” in grazing sheep.  On the other hand, there hasn’t been a single death or case of “Sheep Staggers” associated with Phalaris arundinacea (Voogelbreinder 2009, 273).

To grow Phalaris arundinacea, just barely cover the seeds or merely press them into moist soil.  Keep moist and at 41F/5C, if possible — the cooler, the better. The naturally germinates in early spring. Like all wild grasses, the germination of this seed is irregular; not all the seeds will germinate at once, as happens with cultivated plants. Transplant to sandy soil and allow full sun. Once it is established, it grows from creeping rhizomes, which begin developing after a month of growth.  It often grows in low-lying and marshy meadows and pastures that flood, but it is moderately drought resistant.  Phalaris arundinacea does well in fertile soils and humid areas, but it does not like subtropical or tropical climates.

In order to grow Phalaris aquatica, one should just barely the cover seeds (or simply press them into moist soil) and keep at 70 F for germination in 7-14 days.  Grow in cooler temperatures, preferably 60 F, and full sun.  This seed germinates over a wide period in order to have more survivors, so not all the seeds germinate at once.

TRADITIONAL USES: Reed canary grass has been known since ancient times. One species of Phalaris grass was described by Dioscorides as phalaridos. He says that this grass, when crushed and mixed with water or alcohol, is good for treating bladder troubles.  A number of Phalaris grasses are found in herbals from the early modern period. Reed canary grass was discovered to be psychoactive through phytochemical studies for agricultural purposes (Ratsch 1998, 432).

Although there is no explicit historical mention of any traditional ritual use of Phalaris arundinacea, the poet Ovid described a shamanic transformation  into a sea god that is induced by an unidentified “grass” in the story of Glaucus.  It is hypothesized that this grass may have been a type of Phalaris (Nims 1965).

TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: The dried grass may be smoked, but this rarely if ever has any effect. Smoking an extract made from the leaves is much more effective.  In order to make this extract, the dried leaves are powdered and freeze dried (or repeatedly frozen and thawed).  The leaves are then put into a blender with water, and acetic acid is added. The resulting mush is then boiled down until it takes on a tar-like consistency. This may then be dissolved in alcohol.  In combination with a smoking herb (such as damiana), this solution has powerful effects (DeKorne 1994).

Reed canary grass is also sometimes used in ayahuasca analogs, though there is little information about the preparation or effects. Combining 125 mg of Peganum harmala extract and 50 mg of Phalaris extract has been reported to produce strong psychedelic effects and serious nausea (DeKorne 1994). Combining 60 g fresh Phalaris and 3 g of Peganum harmala has been reported to produce strongly toxic effects (Festi & Samorini 1994 cited in Ratsch 1998, 432).

MEDICINAL USES: According to Dioscorides, P. arundinacea was crushed and mixed with water or wine to treat bladder diseases in ancient Greece (Ratsch 1998, 433).

TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: The plant has recently been discovered to contain high concentrations of DMT, beta-carbolines, 5-MEO-demethyltryptamine, and trace amounts of bufotenine. Smoking Phalaris grass extract can produce effects similar to N,N-DMT.  Some reports of the use of Phalaris arundinacea in ayahuasca analogs have suggested ayahuasca-like effects, but many others have reported very negative physical symptoms such as nausea and intestinal distress.  This is possibly due to higher levels of 5-MeO-DMT in some plants, which may cause symptoms of serotonin syndrome. Some individuals have reported effects very different from the effects of DMT and 5-MeO-DMT, particularly when the plant matter is frozen properly.  This seems to result in a “very powerful, very short psychedelic journey”.  It has been hypothesized that these effects are due to bufotenine or possibly to an unknown tryptamine.  Effects reported include an enhancement of perception, rushes of psychedelic energy running up the spine and out the top of the head, and other positive physical effects (Voogelbreinder 2009, 273).

Dr. Shulgin and several others have recently voiced concerns regarding some of the B-carbolines contained in Phalaris, which have structural similarities to B-carbolines that are proven to inhibit mitochondrial response and are therefore toxic.  Therefore, it is likely best to be cautious in using this plant as an ayahuasca analog until more information is made available (Voogelbreinder 2009, 273).

Animals that eat large quantities of Phalaris grass, particularly Phalaris aquatica, may suffer from a neurological intoxication known as “Sheep Staggers” or “Phalaris Staggers”.  This was initially thought to be a result of the tryptamine alkaloids in the grass, but it is now thought that it is the presence of 3-methylindole and N-methyl-tyramine that cause the negative effects.  The grass can also contain lethal levels of nitrate and HCN.  These are probably responsible for the death that sometimes occurs in animals with this syndrome.  However, it does seem that the tryptamine alkaloids are responsible for the neurological intoxication and diarrhea observed in the animals (Voogelbreinder 2009, 273).



Appleseed, J. “Ayahuasca Analog Plant Complexes of the Temperate Zone: Phalaris Arundinacea and the Desmanthus Spec.” Integration 4 (1993): 59–62.

DeKorne, J. Psychedelic Shamanism. Port Townsend, Washington: Loompanics Unlimited, 1994.

Appleseed, J. “Ayahuasca Analog Plant Complexes of the Temperate Zone: Phalaris Arundinacea and the Desmanthus Spec.” Integration 4 (1993): 59–62.

Nims, J.F., ed. Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the Arthur Golding Translation 1567. New York: MacMillan, 1965.

Ratsch, Christian., The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and its Applications. Rochester: Park Street Press, 1998.

Voogelbreinder, Snu, Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness. Snu Voogelbreinder, 2009.