In many Indian homes, Vacha or the ‘Sweet Flag’ plant is given with honey in tiny quantities to infants on the 11th and 21st day of their birth. It is believed that this practice makes the child mentally agile and talkative.
Vacha is also extensively used in Ayurveda and other traditional systems of medicine for mother and child care due to its ability to enhance intellect. It acts as an anti-pyretic, as an immuno-modulator and has nervine tonic actions. It increases memory and controls hyperactivity in children.
Sweet flag has a rich history of medicinal use in Indian and Chinese cultures. It was also widely traded for its aromatic properties and has been used as a substitute for ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg in several parts of the globe. This suggests the pleasantness of the plant’s aromatic constituents and its positive medicinal attributes.
Location: Vacha or Acorus Calamus is a semi-aquatic plant found in temperate and sub-temperate regions. It is a native of eastern countries and is indigenous to marshes in the mountains of India. It is cultivated throughout the country up to an altitude of about 2,200 metres. Vacha is also found in the marshy tracts of Kashmir, Sirmaur in Himachal Pradesh and in parts of Manipur and the Naga Hills. It is regularly cultivated in the Koratgere taluk of Karnataka.
Planting: Although Vacha looks like a grass it isn’t. The herb has its own family that is closely related to aroids. But gardeners can use it as an ornamental grass in a shady or partly sunny area with average to high soil moisture.
Vacha grows best near a pond or as part of an aquatic garden. It grows luxuriously in clay soil, under shady sunlight with adequate water supply. Above the ground, its leaves arise from underground rhizomes which grow up to 45 to 180 cm long. Its aromatic leaves, beautiful small, light brown flowers and their extensive medicinal applications are value addition to your garden.
Vacha was initially distributed from its native range through trade and commerce. The rhizome was subsequently cultivated and the plant spread by vegetative means. Vacha can be grown in your garden by vegetative means through rhizomes. The ideal months are from February to May. A sprouting percentage of 80 to 100 per cent is easily attainable. Flowering occurs from July to September.
Properties: Vacha has many uses apart from being an intellect enhancer and immuno-modulator. In high doses, it induces vomiting. It also stimulates the nervous system.
This herb works as a carminative. It helps those suffering from habitual constipation, diarrhea, flatulence, dyspepsia, gastritis and colic pain. It is a good remedy for severe sore throat, ear ache, laryngitis, nasal congestion, sinusitis, cough and asthma. Vacha is also used for epilepsy, inflammation, arthritis, neuralgia, rheumatism and nervous affectations, dysmenorrhea, shock, gum diseases, wounds and ulcers.
Some classic Ayurvedic formulation like Sarswatarishta and Sarswata churna, where Vacha is used as the chief ingredient, promote memory and help in the treatment of psychiatric problems.
For children: Dried rhizome powder with honey is given to enhance intellect, memory and speech and to prevent fever and pain during teething. Vacha powdered and Yastimadhu (licorice) with honey treats fever, cough and congestion in the chest. An infusion of Vacha rhizome and jeera (cumin seeds) is useful in alleviating colic pain in children.
For stomach complaints: Vacha relives flatulence, colic pain and increasing appetite. The dried rhizome is burnt and mixed with bland oil such as refined coconut oil or a poultice of the rhizome can be applied on the abdomen for stomach complaints. For chronic dysentery, the rhizome infusion can help effectively.
For common cold: A small piece of the rhizome is roasted and powdered. A pinch of this powder is mixed with honey and consumed. If the same condition occurs in infants, the paste of Vacha is mixed with breast milk and placed on the child’s tongue.
For fits or epilepsy: The rhizome is prepared as an amulet and tied to the body of the child preferably the waist.
Immunity enhancer: Grind a handful of Vacha leaves and mix 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder to the paste. Apply the paste on the child’s body and bathe the child after half an hour to increase immunity.
Nagaraj HB is a Research Officer at CHG Department, IAIM, Bangalore. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org