Gramineae: Poaceae (Grass Family); Festuceae Tribe
Forms and Subspecies
There is a small form that has striped leaves and is frequently cultivated as an ornamental: Arundo donax L. cv. Variegata.
Arundo bambusifolia Hkr.
Arundo bengalensis Retz.
Arundo glauca Bub.
Arundo sativa nom. nud.
Arundo cypria, arundo tibialis, auleticon, barinari (Hindi), calamia, calamus, calamus cyprius, cana, cane of Spayne, cane sticks, canna, canna hispanica, caña brava, carizzo, carizzo de castilla, casab (Arabic), donax, flötenrohr, giant reed, great reed, guna pipi (Siona, “rock reed”), harundo, hasab (Arabic), hispanischried, italienisches rohr, juco, juinanashu(p)jua (Kamsá), kalamos (Greek), kinapipi (Secoya, “rock reed”), kyprisches rohr, nalaka (Sanskrit), navadna trstenika (Slowenic), nbj.t (ancient Egyptian), pfahlrohr, pfeilrohr, pilco, rede, rede of Spayne, ried, riesenschilf, riet, rohr, rohr aus syrien, roseau, shaq (Chumash), spanisches rohr, Spanish cane, Spanish reed, tubito, uenyinanashuf, xapij, xapij-aacöl (Serí, “great reed grass”), yuntu (Mapuche), zahm rohr
Archaeological finds, e.g., of flutes made from the stalks, demonstrate that Arundo donax was used widely in ancient Egypt since at least the time of the New Kingdom (Germer 1985, 204*). The stems have been used around the world to make shafts for arrows (Timbrook 1990, 246*). The plant has long been associated with the pastoral god Pan, in part because its shafts were used to make pipes of Pan. Arundo donax may have been the wondrous “twelve gods’ plant” of late antiquity (see dodecatheon). Because it appears in the legend of the Buddha, the reed is also sacred to Buddhists (Gupta 1991, 18f.*). It is only recently that the psychoactive properties of the reed have become known (Ott 1993, 245*).
The reed (Arundo donax) is the largest species of true grass known in Europe. (Woodcut from Tabernaemontanus, Neu Vollkommen Kräuter-Buch, 1731)
The phalluslike shoots on the roots of Arundo donax may explain why the grass is sacred to the lusty god Pan.
The giant reed (Arundo donax), with its typical spikes. (Photographed on Naxos, Greece)
One of the many cultivated forms of Arundo donax (cv. Variegata) bred for ornamental purposes.
The giant reed is originally from the Mediterranean region, but it spread quickly throughout the world. It has been present in the New World since the sixteenth century.
The simplest method is to plant root segments that have been dug up and separated from the main root or to take scions with young shoots. The scion, with its small piece of root, can be placed in water before transplanting.Young, phalluslike roots (which may help to explain the association with the phallic god Pan) will form almost overnight.
The stalks, which grow in bundles from the nodular rhizomes, can grow 4 to 6 meters tall. The lanceolate leaves are 3 to 5 cm wide and over 50 cm in length. The symmetrical panicles can grow as long as 70 cm. In the tropics, the grass can grow over 10 meters tall. The striped form that is grown as an ornamental reaches a height of only about 3 meters.
Arundo donax is easily confused with Phragmites australis.
—Rhizome (rhizoma arundinis donacis)
Preparation and Dosage
The fresh rhizome is cleaned, cut into small pieces, and macerated in an alcohol-water mixture (1:1). The maceration can be concentrated by evaporation. The residue, which is rich in alkaloids, can then be prepared in a manner appropriate for ayahuasca analogs.
The Shipibo shamans from Caimito use the giant reed as an ayahuasca additive. Northern Peruvian folk healers (curanderos) sometimes set up crosses of reeds when making the San Pedro drink (see Trichocereus pachanoi) so that the brew will not boil over. Otherwise, it will not bring good fortune (Giese 1989, 229*).
Little is known about dosages. Fifty mg of the extract (in combination with 3 g of Peganum harmala seeds) does not appear to produce any psychedelic effects. Unfortunately, little is also known about toxic dosages. Great care should be exercised when experimenting with Arundo donax (cf. Phragmites australis).
In ancient times, the reed not only was consecrated to the nature god Pan but also was sacred to Silvanus and Priapus. It is not known whether the reed was used as a psychoactive agent in the cult of Pan. On the other hand, the syrinx, the pipes of Pan, are made from reeds, and these not only produce beautiful melodies but also can spread a “Panic terror” (Borgeaud 1988). This story may be a metaphor for the great psychoactive power of the root (for most people, DMT experiences are profoundly terrifying).
It was once thought that the Greco-Roman columns of ancient times had been inspired by the stalks of the reed (Arundo donax). (Woodcut from Tabernaemontanus, Neu Vollkommen Kräuter-Buch, 1731)
Apart from this, there are only a few rumors of a ritual use as a psychoactive plant that can be taken seriously:
There are statements about a secret Sufi tradition in which Arundo donax and Peganum harmala have been linked with mystical initiation. If this is in fact true, then this would be evidence for the use of a reliable ayahuasca analog in the ancient Near East—the celebrated soma of the Arians. (DeKorne 1995, 28)
Several ancient Egyptian paintings depict grasses and thickets of grasses that can be interpreted as either Arundo donax or Phragmites australis (Germer 1985, 204*). The stems were made into panpipes. They also appear to have been used as a model for the design of certain columns.
In the New World, the shafts of Arundo donax were used not only in the manufacture of arrows but also as ritual objects. The poles for the prayer flags of the Huichols (cf. Lophophora williamsii) are made from Arundo donaxstems (per oral communication from Stacy Schaeffer). Today, Ecuadoran Indians still make panpipes from the stalks (Vickers and Plowman 1984, 13*). In Colombia, shamans wear the fronds as ear ornaments (Bristol 1965, 103*).
The rootstock was used in folk medicine primarily as a diuretic, i.e., an agent that promotes urination (Wassel and Ammar 1984).
In homeopathy, an essence of fresh root shoots called “Arundo mauritanica—water reed” was an important remedy around 1863 (Schneider 1974, 1:144f.*).
The rhizome contains at least five tryptamines: N,N-DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, bufotenine, dehydrobufotenine, and bufotenidine (DeKorne 1995, 27; Ghosal et al. 1969; Wassel and Ammar 1984). Little is known about other constituents.
According to Dioscorides, the flower tufts of Arundo donax—just like those of Phragmites australis—induce deafness if they get into the ear (1:114).
The reports about the effects of an ayahuasca analog made with Arundo donax are not very promising and do not encourage others to experiment:
For example, I once ingested one gram of Peganum harmala extract with 50 mg of an Arundo donax extraction. There was no psychoactivity at all, but I did suffer a modest allergic reaction. Within an hour I noticed that my vision was impaired—there was some difficulty in focusing on the print in a magazine. Later, my eyes felt watery and slightly swollen. The next day, I had a medium conjunctivitis with occasional hives appearing on my body. It took three days for these symptoms to subside. Obviously, one should take extreme care when experimenting with any new plant species, especially those which have no known history of shamanic usage. (DeKorne 1994, 97*)
Commercial Forms and Regulations
See also the entries for Phalaris arundinacea, Phragmites australis, ayahuasca analogs, N,NDMT, and 5-MeO-DMT.
Borgeaud, Philippe. 1988. The cult of Pan in ancient Greece. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
DeKorne, Jim. 1995. Arundo donax. Entheogene 4:27–28.
Ghosal, S., et al. 1969. Arundo donax L. (Graminae): Phytochemical and pharmacological evaluation. Journal of Medicinal Chemistry 12:480–83.
Machen, Arthur. 1994. Der Große Pan. Munich: Piper.
Valenčič, Ivan. 1994. Ali vsebuje navadna trstenika (Arundo donax) psihedelik DMT? Proteus 56:258–61.
Wassel, G. M., and N. M. Ammar. 1984. Isolation of the alkaloids and evaluation of the diuretic activity of Arundo donax. Fitoterapia 15 (6): 357–58.
“Pan, the Mighty, I call to you
the god of the shepherds, the totality of the universe—
Heaven, Ocean, Earth, the queen of all,
and the immortal fire,
for all are the limbs of Pan.
Come, blessed one, Jumper, running in a circle,
He who rules with the Horae, Goat-footed god:
Friend of souls ardent for god, Ecstatic, cave-dweller—
You play the world’s harmony
with merry flute tones,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Off then, Blessed one, Ecstatic one,
to the libations of sacred virtue!
A blessed end shall join life;
To the marrow of the earth Enthrall the Panic terrors
“There is a real world, but it lies behind this luster and this illusion, behind all of the ‘hunting for Gobelin tapestries, dreams at full speed’! Behind it, as if behind a veil. . . . The old ones knew what it meant to lift the veil. They called it: beholding the god Pan.”
DER GROßE PAN [THE GREAT PAN] (1994, 10)