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By Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, Oregon, USA
Conscious communication is the essence of yoga. From your chakras to your nervous system to the words you speak, your very molecules are vibrating with the energy of your being, and transmitting that energy to all the other parts of you and the people in your life. Yoga exercises, pranayam, and lifestyle practices all support conscious communication, and there is one special yogic herb that rises above all others for clarifying and expanding the spiritual voice we all share.
Calamus root (Acorus calamus) is a major herb for the mind and meditation, and is highly revered by yogis. Ancient yogis and seers used this herb and it is said to stimulate the power of self-expression and to enhance intelligence. Calamus promotes circulation to the brain, sharpens memory, enhances awareness, and increases communication. The yogic name, Vacha, means “speech” and refers to its action on the fifth chakra and its propensity to help you speak from your highest consciousness. This herb is often combined with gotu kola, which is cooling and mild. The complementary energetics makes the combination suitable for a wide variety of people.
Vacha is very popular among my graduate students. When I teach about it in classes at Bastyr University, where I instruct future physicians and natural healing professionals, it always becomes popular within a small cadre of those in the know. For burned out medical students, especially cold, scattered air tattva types, finals week becomes a much easier proposition. Students may also use it for exam phobia.
Balance the Air Tattva
For insomnia caused by the air tattva, vacha will warm and pacify the errant energy. Use a daily dose taken with meals to have a gradual effect. For attention deficit disorders, vacha combines well with gotu kola, jatamamsi, shankpushpi, and licorice. Over the long term, vacha will warm the body and pacify the mind. Vacha is combined with triphala as a general rasayana (rejuvenative) that bestows intelligence, longevity, and good memory. Vacha is a bitter herb that reduces digestive gas and mucus throughout the body. These qualities, taken together, obviously suggest vacha as a superior remedy to balance the air tattva.
The most famous Ayurvedic scripture, the Charaka Samhita, lists vacha medicated ghee for epilepsy involving the air and water tattvas. It is prepared by cooking one part of vacha in four parts ghee and eight parts water. Over the years, I have had extensive experience with using vacha to treat epilepsy, especially juvenile petit mal (absence) seizures, and it is dramatically effective. (Caution: do not treat epilepsy casually. It is a serious and complicated condition, with many causes, and a collection of associated family and social issues. Always consult a qualified professional.) We gradually increase the dose of vacha while closely monitoring the condition, and it is often very effective. For epilepsy, consider using the vacha in ghee, along with gotu kola, asafoetida, choraka (Angelica glauca) and jatamansi (Indian valerian root).
Stomach, Heart, Prostate
The mind applications of vacha are unique to Ayurveda, but its warming respiratory and digestive functions are well known in European herbalism. It seems almost a shame to use such a powerful and valuable herb on common stomach and lung problems, but vacha is quite useful for upset stomach. For cough, combine it with licorice root. Prominent British herbalist Chanchal Cabrera says that in the British herbal tradition, calamus root is thought to be a stomach acid balancer. A dose of up to 5 mililiters of tincture per day will reduce acid, while higher doses stimulate acid production. Vacha is used along with neem and pipali for balancing heart problems caused by the water tattva in general. It also has a reputation in Ayurveda for benefitting conditions in the aging prostate, by helping to restore the proper downward flow of apana, reducing the swelling and pressure in this sensitive area. Yogi Bhajan added asafoetida for this condition.
The mind activating properties of vacha have been credited to its active constituents, the asarones. There has been some hand wringing about the potential problems with vacha, but remember that it has been used for millennia by peoples on several continents as both medicine and food. Past concerns have limited the use of vacha in America, but this is a truly useful and valuable herb. Many people could benefit from it if they became aware of it. Ayurvedic herbalist and author Prashanti de Jager says, “Another case of an uninformed witch hunt. Don’t be fooled, the calamus from India is safe and endlessly useful.”
Vacha is a potent herb, so the effective dose is quite reasonable. It is quite emetic in doses not much larger than the healing dose. Higher doses may stimulate “weird thoughts” —not quite hallucinations, but unusual mental experiences and may not be compatible with other psychoactive drugs, although little is known about these concerns. Use 1 to 4 grams per day, and work up gradually to the effective dose, being mindful of the possible queasiness.
Apply vacha as a medicated ghee in the nostril for general brain and mind benefit, or sniff the infused oil for the same purpose. The nasya (nasal administration) is also applied for sinus congestion. Calamus tea is used in a neti pot as a general remedy for brain conditions.
Vacha has a long and very special history in Ayurveda. For meditating yogis, it can be quite a boost. If you’ve been contemplating improving your communication, concentration, attention, and meditation, this little root might be just the herb for you.
Published in Aquarian Times, August 2010
Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, Yogaraj, D.N.-C., R.H., studied Ayurveda with Yogi Bhajan for over 30 years. He lives in Eugene, Oregon, where he serves as Senior Research Scientist and Chief Medical Formulator for Yogi Tea. His recent book is The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs. You can find more information about Ayurvedic herbs in The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs by Karta Purkh S. Khalsa. To purchase Ayurvedic herbs, visit www.a-healing.com.