The dried and powdered rhizome has a spicy flavour and is used as a substitute for ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. A pinch of the powdered rhizome is used as a flovouring in tea. The young and tender inflorescence is often eaten by children for its sweetness. Young leaves - cooked. The fresh leaves contain 0.078% oxalic acid. The leaves can be used to flavour custards in the same way as vanilla pods.The inner portion of young stems is eaten raw. It makes a very palatable salad.
An essential oil from the rhizome is used in perfumery and as a food flavouring. The oil is contained mainly in the outer skin of the root, it has a fragrance reminiscent of patchouli oil. The fresh roots yield about 1.5 - 3.5% essential oil, dried roots about 0.8%. Some plants from Japan have yielded 5% essential oil. The essential oil is also an insect repellent and insecticide. It is effective against houseflies. When added to rice being stored in granaries it has significantly reduced loss caused by insect damage because the oil in the root has sterilized the male rice weevils. An essential oil obtained from the leaves is used in perfumery and for making aromatic vinegars.The leaves and the root have a refreshing scent of cinnamon. All parts of plant can be dried and used to repel insects or to scent linen cupboards. They can also be burnt as an incense, whilst the whole plant was formerly used as a strewing herb. The growing plant is said to repel mosquitoes.
The root is anodyne, aphrodisiac, aromatic, carminative, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, febrifuge, hallucinogenic, hypotensive, sedative, stimulant, stomachic, mildly tonic and vermifuge. It is used internally in the treatment of digestive complaints, bronchitis, sinusitis etc. It is said to have wonderfully tonic powers of stimulating and normalizing the appetite. In small doses it reduces stomach acidity whilst larger doses increase stomach secretions and it is, therefore, recommended in the treatment of anorexia nervosa. However if the dose is too large it will cause nausea and vomiting[K]. Sweet flag is also used externally to treat skin eruptions, rheumatic pains and neuralgia. An infusion of the root can bring about an abortion whilst chewing the root alleviates toothache. It is a folk remedy for arthritis, cancer, convulsions, diarrhoea, dyspepsia, epilepsy etc. Chewing the root is said to kill the taste for tobacco. Roots 2 - 3 years old are used since older roots tend to become tough and hollow. They are harvested in late autumn or early spring and are dried for later use. The dry root loses 70% of its weight, but has an improved smell and taste. It does, however, deteriorate if stored for too long. Caution is advised on the use of this root, especially in the form of the distilled essential oil, since large doses can cause mild hallucinations. See also the notes above on toxicity.A homeopathic remedy is made from the roots. It is used in the treatment of flatulence, dyspepsia, anorexia and disorders of the gall bladder.
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Plants are hardy to about -25°c. The sweet flag has a long history of use as a medicinal and culinary plant. It has been cultivated for this purpose but was more commonly allowed to naturalize and was then harvested from the wild.The plant seldom flowers or sets seed in Britain and never does so unless it is growing in water. It can spread quite freely at the roots however and soon becomes established.
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