Sweet flag is a tall perennial plant and a wetland monocot. The plant is also called Sweet flag or calamus. The plant is of Asian origin grown across all Asian countries. In recent times, the plant is grown in Europe as well. The leaves and rhizomes (1) of the plant are scented. They are used as substitute for ginger, cinnamon (2) and nutmeg. Vasambu is used in traditional medicine, particularly in India and China. Perfumes are made with the aromatic oil from the rhizomes. Vasambu is the Tamil name for this Acorus Calamus plant from the acoraceae family.
In Ayurveda system of medicine, sweet flag has been used for centuries for to its medicinal benefits. It is especially useful for babies as it is excellent for overall health of baby. This herb can address almost every minor issue that arises in babies.
Benefits of Vasambu for babies
The sweet flag or Vasambu possesses sedative, laxative, diuretic and carminative (coloring) properties. Hence it is widely used in siddha and Ayurveda medicines in India.
Vasambu is called pillai valarpaan (roughly translates to baby growth herb) in Tamil Nadu, the southern state of India, because mothers of newborns use it to raise their babies without illness.
The roots (rhizomes) and leaves are used for their antioxidant, antimicrobial and insecticidal activities (3).
How to consume vasambu?
Vasambu is used in the following forms:
- Vasambu root is burnt in direct flame from burners of sesame oil or castor oil. When the root turns black, it is swiped on rough stone to make a powder of it. The powder thus obtained is then made into a paste with breast milk or honey and given to the child.
- The paste is also made substituting water for honey.
- The root pieces are boiled in water for some time. When the water is reduced to half the quantity, it is filtered. This filtered water is given to babies.
As its name “pillai valarpaan” suggests, vasambu is primarily a medicine for babies. At the same time it is useful for people of all ages and provides relief in many ailments. Some of the benefits are:
Vasambu, when used as per the above mentioned methods can cure indigestion, bloating, flatulence (4), dysentery and acidity in infants and adults alike. It can also cure stomach ulcer and gastric problems.
In infants and babies, use of vasambu in prescribed dosage, gas is removed and discomforts caused due to cold and stomach disorders are cured quickly. Tying a rope of vasambu root beads either on the hand or around the neck of infants is a good remedy for stomach disorders (5). Babies have the tendency to lick things – so, they gradually lick the breads and consume very small quantities of vasambu in the process.
Other health benefits of vasambu
There are no herbs that have been proven to cure Alzheimer’s. But Sweet flag can be beneficial to slow down the progression of the disease. Sweet flag contains majority of α-and β-asarone (6) which enhances memory. It improves learning performance and enhances memory. Due to these properties, it can also help to treat the symptoms of dementia (7) and memory loss in elderly patients.
It is also due to this property that makes sweet flag an excellent choice of herb for babies and kids (8). The rhizomes of Sweet flag plant can strengthen the nervous system, prevent epilepsy (9), mental ailments and rheumatism.
Cold and cough
By just consuming a quarter spoon of vasambu powder every day, one can prevent attacks of cold and cough and also get cured of them, if already affected.(This is applicable to adults only)
A paste made of burnt vasambu powder with honey prevents and cures Fits. This treatment is more effective when the baby is only on a milk diet.
How to feed Sweet flag to babies?
Method 1 – Infants 2 weeks to 6 months old
- Take a small piece of sweet flag and char it on a flame.
- Powder the charred sweet flag.
- Mix this powder in breast milk.
- Feed just a pinch of the paste to the baby.
Method 2 – Infants 6 months to 1 year old
- Take a small piece of sweet flag and grind it on a grinding stone.
- Use breast milk to make it into a paste.
- For babies above 6 months of age, grind just twice on the stone. Along with it, grind haritaki twice and give a total of about 1/8th of a teaspoon.
Constipation and stomach pain
It is a good remedy to enhance digestion and to remove stomach disorders. Consequently it prevents constipation in infants. It is very important to ensure that the child does not suffer of constipation as the same may lead to many other problems needing urgent medical attention.
The decoction made from vasambu and Athimathuram cures stomach pain and cough.
The sliced root made into a rope is fastened to the child to prevent epilepsy.
Infants are administered with many medicines for healthy growth. Most of such medicines use vasambu as an important ingredient. The medicines with vasambu are for proper development of the brain, ability to speak, clearer vision and neutralizes toxicities in the body.
Remedy for colic
Since ancient times, sweet flag has been used to treat indigestion and heart burn (10). Due to its capacity to alleviate digestion problems, it is an excellent remedy for infant colic as well. Colic in an infant is cured by rubbing the paste of vasambu powder with breast milk or honey on the baby’s tongue in the mornings for a few days. This is both a cure as well as a prevention.
Infants are protected from insect bites by tying the rope made of vasambu beads in their hand or around the neck. The smell of vasambu repels insects from nearing the child.
For teething pain
Sweet flag has anti-inflammatory properties and this is beneficial to cure teething pain in children (11) . A paste of sweet flag and breast milk (thin paste) can be massaged gently on the gums of your baby. This helps to alleviate pain during infant teething.
The charred vasambu powder and its paste can be used as a homemade kajal for babies. Babies may be allergic to Kajal brought from market.
Speech disorder in babies is cured by vasambu by regular consumption. In addition to enhancing speech quality, the intellect of the child is improved.
Due to the anti-inflammatory properties of sweet flag, it is also useful to heal diaper rash in babies. In traditional India, a mixture of sweet flag paste and breast milk was applied in skin folds to prevent rashes in babies. You can also make a mixture of coconut milk and sweet flag paste (the paste has to be very thin) and apply it in the skin folds. The latter is an excellent remedy for diaper rash (12) too.
Ensure that the dosage of vasambu based preparations are minimal, as over dosage may lead to vomiting or other side effects. Only a pinch of the powder has to be given per day. You can start giving vasambu once your baby is 3 months old.