COMMON NAMES: Calamus vallaris, Canna Sepiaria, Carrizo, Common Reed, ‘eqpe’w (Chumash), Lok’aa’ (Navajo, ‘tube’), Phragmites (Greek), Reedgrass
A perennial grass with a long association with humans, the common reed is native to Eurasia and Africa but has spread all over the world along with people, even though it has practically never been cultivated. It grows to a height of 3 m with a spread of 1 m. The stem is erect and flowering; the leaves are long, narrow, acuminate, and bamboo like; the flowers are brownish, plume-like, and terminal, appearing in late summer and autumn (Ratsch 1998, 435).
A truly cosmopolitan plant, P. australis prefers moist, wet soils at lakesides or slow moving creeks, and is frost resistant but drought tender. Propagation is by division in spring or by seed (Ratsch 1998, 435).
TRADITIONAL USES: Phragmites australis has many uses as a building and craft material – for weaving mats, as a roofing material, as a source of cellulose and to create arrows and instruments. All parts of the plant are edible and have been prepared in various ways. Native Americans have used this plant to aid with digestive ailments and headaches, and the Iroquois soak corn seeds with it to speed germination. Medicinally the leaves and roots are renowned as a diuretic. Extracts of the rhizome have recently been found to be effective as an ayahuasca analogue and the dried extract (resin) has psychoactive properties when smoked (Ratsch 1998, 435).
In southern Africa the rhizome is used as part of a compound called sehoere which is consumed by the Basuto people as an intoxicant in ritual feasts. In ancient Egypt, Phragmites australis were used as a fermenting agent and a source of materials. It is depicted in numerous works of Egyptian art, and even originated a hieroglyph (Ratsch 1998, 435-436).
The Navajo see Phragmites australis as a sacred plant which once saved humanity from the Great Flood. The Navajo received the plant from a holy individual and humans and animals were able to climb up the magical reed, which extended up into the sky. The holy person attached a feather to the growing reed, as with the feathers on an arrow, so that it would grow straight. Thus the reed still has a feather-like flower. The reed shaft is used to create poles for ceremonies and healing magic (Mayes & Lacy 1989).
The Seri Indians from northern Mexico use reed pieces from this plant to smoke wild tobacco. They also fill the tubes with a special powder that is prepared with the aid of the spirit of the plants. These tubes are used as charms for good luck or to cure illness (Ratsch 1998, 436).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: 20-50g of the fresh or dried root is boiled for fifteen minutes and combined with 3 g of Peganum harmala seeds to create an ayahuasca analog (Ratsch 1998, 435).
MEDICINAL USES: In ancient Greece, the root of P. australis was ground and mixed with onions to make a poultice for the removal of splinters and thorns. It was mixed with vinegar to treat hip pain and dislocation, and an infusion of the root is still used as a diuretic in Europe. The plant is also valuable in the treatment of respiratory obstruction and other troubles. The Navajo use the tea as an emetic for stomach and skin troubles (Ratsch 1998, 436).
In Japan the shoots are cooked and eaten as a vegetable along with the resin that comes from the stems. The rhizomes are considered to be sweet and cold in energy with an affinity for the lungs and stomach. The Japanese also use the plant to treat nausea, urinary problems, arthritis, coughs, lung pain, and fish poisoning (Voogelbreinder 2009, 274).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: The rhizome and flowers contain the alkaloids N,N-DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, bufotenine, and gramine. Alkaloid content in the rhizome seems to be highest when it is grown in a submerged position (Wasel et al. 1985).
Most reports on the psychoactive effects of Phragmites australis are from individuals experimenting with it as an ayahuasca analog. Stomach and intestinal distress are often reported, as well as strong visuals and revelations, similar to other types of ayahuasca analog experiences (Ratsch 1998, 436).
Mayes, V.O., and B.B. Lacy. Nanise’: A Navajo Herbal. Tsaile, Arizona: Navajo Community College Press, 1989.
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.
Wassel, G.M., S.M. El-Difrawy, and A.A. Saeed. “Alkaloids from the Rhizomes of Phragmites Australis Cav.” Scientia Pharmaceutica 53 (1985): 169–170.