The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Phalaris arundinacea Linnaeus


Reed Canary Grass




Gramineae: Poaceae (Grass Family)

Forms and Subspecies


Several varieties and cultivars have been described, including Phalaris arundinacea var. β picta L. (from North America), known as bent grass. The widespread cultivar Phalaris arundinacea cv. Turkey Red produces primarily 5-MeO-DMT (Appleseed 1995, 37).



Baldingera arundinacea (L.) Dumort.

Phalaroides arundinacea (L.) Rauschert

Typhoides arundinacea (L.) Moench

Folk Names


Bentgrass, canarygrass, canary grass, glanzgras, militz, phalaridos, randgräs, reed canarygrass, reed canary grass, reed grass, rohrglanzgras



Reed canary grass was known even in ancient times. It cannot be determined whether this or another species (e.g., Phalaris aquatica L. or Phalaris canariensis L.) is the phalaridos described by Dioscorides. A number of grasses appear in herbals from the early modern period. The fact that Phalaris is psychoactive was discovered during phytochemical studies of the grasses for agricultural purposes. For several years, closet shamans have been experimenting with possibilities for using this and other grasses for psychoactive purposes (cf. Arundo donaxPhalaris spp., Phragmites australis).



The grass is found in Eurasia, North Africa, and North America. Thick stands grow on the banks of rivers and lakes and in wet meadows, often in reed fields and large sedge swamps (so-called phragmitetea).


The common reed canary grass Phalaris arundinacea is found throughout the world. Depending upon its location, it can exhibit variously high concentrations of tryptamines.



Phalaris arundinacea var. picta, a variety of reed canary grass that was bred for ornamental purposes.



The variety of reed canary grass known as Phalaris arundinacea cv. Turkey Red contains especially high concentrations of DMT.




The grass can be grown from seed or propagated by root cuttings (Appleseed 1995). The seeds need only be broadcast onto the ground. The grass prefers nutrient-rich, acid soils and must be near water or watered frequently.



The perennial grass develops gray-green stalks that can grow up to 2 meters in height and can branch. The long, wide leaves have rough edges and are attached to the stalks. The panicle can take on a light green or red-violet hue. The spikelets bear a single flower. The flowering period is from June to August (Christiansen and Hancke 1993, 74 f.*). Large specimens can be confused with small forms of Phragmites australis.

Psychoactive Material



Preparation and Dosage


While the dried grass can be smoked, smoking almost never yields any effects. An extract obtained from the leaves is more suitable for smoking. It can be produced in the following manner: The dried leaves are finely chopped or powdered and, preferably, freeze-dried (or frozen and unfrozen several times). The material prepared in this fashion is placed in a blender with water and minced into a mush that is made acidic by the addition of an acid (e.g., acetic acid) and lightly simmered. The material is then boiled down until a tarlike mass remains. This mass can then be dissolved in alcohol (or a mixture of ethanol and water). The resulting solution is then impregnated into material suitable for smoking (e.g., damiana herbage; cf. Turnera diffusa). After being dried, the preparation should be quite potent (cf. DeKorne 1994, 127 ff.*).

Reed canary grass is increasingly being used to produce ayahuasca analogs. To date, however, there are very few detailed reports about optimal dosages, and definitive information about the races or strains of the grass to use is also lacking (Appleseed 1993).

A combination of 125 mg of an extract of Peganum harmala seeds and 50 mg of Phalaris extract produced unequivocal psychedelic effects “accompanied by strong waves of nausea” (DeKorne 1994, 98*). A combination of 60 g fresh weight of Phalaris and 3 g of Peganum harmala produced strong toxic effects (Festi and Samorini 1994).

Ritual Use


To date, we know of no traditional use of Phalaris arundinacea as a psychoactive substance. However, the Roman poet Ovid (43 B.C.E.–17 C.E.) described a shamanic transformation that was induced by (an unfortunately unidentified) “grass.” In the story of Glaucus, a fisher from Anthedon in Boeotia, Glaucus himself described his wondrous metamorphosis into a sea god:


I sought the cause if any God had brought this same abowt,

Or else sum jewce of herb. And as I so did musing stand,

What herb (quoth I) hath such a powre? And gathering with my hand

The grasse, I bote it with my toothe. My throte had scarcely yit

Well swallowed downe the uncouth jewce, when like an agew fit

I felt myne inwards soodeinly to shake, and with the same,

A love of other nature in my brest with violence came.

And long I could it not resist, but sayd: Deere land, adeew,

For never shall I haunt thee more. And with that woord I threw

My bodye in the sea. The Goddes thereof receyving mee,

Vouchsaved in theyr order mee installed for too bee,

Desyring old Oceanus and Thetis for theyr sake,

The rest of my mortalitie away from mee to take.

They hallowed mee, and having sayd nyne tymes the holy ryme

That purgeth all prophanednesse, they charged mee that tyme

To put my brestbulk underneathe a hunred streames. Anon

The brookes from sundry coastes and all the Seas did ryde uppon

My head. From whence as soone as I returned, by and by

I felt my self farre otherwyse through all my limbes, than I

Had beene before. And in my mynd I was another man.

Thus farre of all that mee befell make just report I can.

Thus farre I beare in mynd. The rest my mynd perceyved not.

Then first of all this hory greene gray grisild beard I got,

And this same bush of heare which all along the seas I sweepe,

And theis same myghty shoulders, and theis grayish armes, and feete

Confounded into finned fish.

(OVID, METAMORPHOSES 13.1099–24; IN NIMS 1965, 348–49)


Perhaps the “grass” was Phalaris arundinacea, and a preparation was known in ancient times that would have been suitable in rituals for animal transformation.







Medicinal Use


Dioscorides noted that the “crushed plant, treated with water or wine to make a juice, has the power to have good effects on bladder disorders” (3.149).



The entire grass contains indole alkaloids, the composition of which can vary greatly depending upon race, strain, location, time of collection, et cetera (Marten 1973; Ostrem 1987). N,N-DMT, MMT, and 5-MeO-DMT are usually present (Matum et al. 1979). The grass also can have high concentrations of gramine, a very toxic alkaloid (Appleseed 1995).



Smoking a suitable preparation can produce effects like those produced by N,N-DMT. While some of the ayahuasca analogs that have been tested to date have indeed yielded ayahuasca-like effects, many of the reports describe unpleasant experiences (cf. Festi and Samorini 1994).

Commercial Forms and Regulations


The seeds are available through ethnobotanical specialty sources.

“An extremely potent smokable form of DMT can be extracted from the reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea). . . . Phalaris DMT is something brand new—derived from one of the ayahuasca analog plants, it is a natural form of DMT and 5-MeO-DMT which can be grown by anyone anywhere on the planet outside of the polar regions. It has no somatic side effects (nausea, vomiting), nor is it dependent for its extraction on complicated laboratory procedures, equipment or knowledge; hence it isn’t necessary to rely upon a profit-oriented monopoly of dealers to obtain. It comes on fast, is too intense, and subsides rapidly: just like the way we live our lives.”





A copperplate engraving of Phalaris grass, from the German edition of Dioscorides (1610).




See also the entries for Arundo donaxPhragmites australisayahuasca analogsN,N-DMT, and 5-MeO-DMT.


Appleseed, Johnny. 1993. Ayahuasca analog plant complexes of the temperate zone: Phalaris arundinacea and the Desmanthus spec. Integration 4:59–62.


———. 1995. Phalaris in großen Mengen. Entheogene 4:36-37.


Festi, Francesco, and Giorgio Samorini. 1994. Alcaloidi indolici psicoattivi nei generi Phalaris e Arundo (Graminaceae): Una rassegna. Annali dei Musei Civici di Rovereto 9 (1993): 239–88. (Very good bibliography.)


Marten, G. C. 1973. Alkaloids and palatability of Phalaris arundinacea grown in diverse environments. Agronomy Journal 165:199–201.


Marum, P., A. W. Hovin, and G. C. Marten. 1979. Inheritance of three groups of indole alkaloids in reed canarygrass. Crop Science 19:539–44.


Nims, John Frederick, ed. 1965. Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the Arthur Golding translation 1567. New York: Macmillan.


Ostrem, L. 1987. Studies on genetic variation in reed canarygrass, Phalaris arundinacea I: Alkaloid type and concentration. Hereditas 107:235–48.


Phalaris spp.


Canary Grasses




Gramineae: Poaceae (Grass Family)


Following a comprehensive revision of the genus Phalaris, a total of twenty-two species is now accepted. The greatest number of species (eleven) are found in the Mediterranean region, where they are part of the indigenous flora. Four species are native to the American Southwest (Baldini 1995). Like Phalaris arundinacea, many species exhibit considerable variability. The various species appear to have different chemotypes and chemical races. For this reason, experimenting with unknown types of Phalaris without previously analyzing their constituents can be extremely dangerous. Many grasses contain gramine, a very toxic alkaloid.


Phalaris aquatica L. [syn. Phalaris bulbosa auct. non. L., Phalaris commutata Roem. et Schult., Phalaris nodosa Murray, Phalaris tuberosa L.]—water canary grass

Originally from the Mediterranean region, this species is now found throughout the world. Phalaris aquatica is very common in Australia, where it is despised in sheep pastures as a poisonous grass (McBarron 1991, 17). This species is thought to contain the highest concentrations of N,N,-DMT in the genus (Baxter and Slaytor 1972; Mack et al. 1988). Whether the Aborigines used this grass in any way is unknown. There also is no evidence to determine whether the grass was present in Australia before the arrival of the Europeans or whether it was introduced along with the cattle and sheep. There are several varieties (e.g., var. australia, var. uneta), some of which represent chemical races. Some sorts or strains contain primarily N,N,-DMT, while in others 5-MeO-DMT predominates (Mack and Slaytor 1979; Mulvena and Slaytor 1982, 1983). This grass is being increasingly tested for use in developing ayahuasca analogs.

Phalaris spp.—cane canary grass

Ancient Egyptian graves have yielded grave garlands into which pieces or entire stalks (including panicles) of Phalaris species were worked (Germer 1985, 219*). It is possible that psychoactive tryptamines may be present in a number of Phalaris species.


This early modern illustration of a canary grass may represent the DMT-rich species Phalaris aquatica. (Woodcut from Tabernaemontanus, Neu Vollkommen Kräuter-Buch, 1731)



The grass Phalaris aquatica (=Phalaris tuberosa) is rich in DMT and other tryptamines.



Many Phalaris species have not been chemically investigated to date. There are strong indications, however, that many members of the genus contain psychoactive constituents. (A Phalaris species, photographed in Crete)



The common canary grass (Phalaris canariensis) is known primarily as a source of bird food. This species also contains alkaloids.




See also Phalaris arundinacea and ayahuasca analogs.


Anonymous. 1995. Phalaris special. Eleusis 49–51.


Baldini, Riccardo M. 1993. The genus Phalaris L. (Gramineae) in Italy. Webbia 47:1–53.


———. 1995. Revision of the genus Phalaris L. (Gramineae). Webbia 49:265–329.


Baxter, C., and M. Slaytor. 1972. Biosynthesis and turnover of N,N-dimethyltryptamine and 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine in Phalaris tuberosaPhytochemistry 11:2767–73.


Mack, J. P. G., et al. 1988. N,N-dimethyltryptamine production in Phalaris aquatica seedlings: A mathematical model for its synthesis. Plant Physiology 88:315–20.


Mack, J. P. G., and M. Slaytor. 1979. Indolethylamine N-methyltransferase of Phalaris tuberosaPhytochemistry 18:1921–25.


McBarron, E. J. 1991. Poisonous plants. Melbourne, Sydney, and London: Inkata Press.


Mulvena, D. P., and M. Slaytor. 1982. Separation of tryptophan derivatives in Phalaris aquatica by thin layer chromatography. Journal of Chromatography 245:155–57.


———. 1983. N-methyltransferase activities in Phalaris aquaticaPhytochemistry 22 (1): 47–48.