Gramineae: Poaceae (Grass Family)
Forms and Subspecies
At least two subspecies have been described (Germer 1985, 205*):
Phragmites australis ssp. altissimus (Benth.) Clayton Phragmites australis ssp. stenophyllus (Boiss.) Bor.
Arundo isiaca Del.
Arundo phragmites L.
Arundo vulgaris Lam.
Phragmites communis L.
Phragmites communis Trin.
Phragmites communis var. isiacus (Del.) Coss. et DR.
Calamus vallaris, canna sepiaria, carrizo, carrizo de panocha, common reed, ‘eqpe’w (Chumash), gemeines rohr, gemeines schilfrohr, harundo, ‘iqpew, lók’aa’ (Navajo, “tube”), kalamos, phragmites (Greek), rancül, reed, reedgrass, ried, rohr, schelef, schilf, schilfrohr, topo, xapij
In ancient Egypt, reeds were used for a number of purposes, especially as a source of materials (Germer 1985, 205*). The plant was described by Theophrastus, Dioscorides, and Pliny. Apart from its use as a fermenting agent, no traditional psychoactive use of the plant has been documented to date.
Over time, reeds have been used for a wide variety of purposes, including as roofing material, as a source of cellulose, and in the manufacture of arrows, cane mats, and musical instruments (Aichele and Hofmann 1991, 120*; cf. Arundo donax). The plant has even been used as a source of nourishment. The seeds have been made into porridge, the young shoots are a good vegetable, and the sweet pith can be used to make fermented beverages (beer) (Bremness 1995, 202*; Timbrook 1990, 246*).
The reed is the largest grass in central Europe, where it is often encountered along the shores of lakes (in the water) in so-called reed fields. The grass can grow on land, but only where the water table is close to the surface and does not subside for any length of time, e.g., in sedge meadows and fens (Christiansen and Hancke 1993, 89*). The common reed is now found throughout the world.
The plant is propagated primarily vegetatively. The grass can be easily grown from a piece of the root (rhizome). Reeds prefer marshy soil and require a great deal of nutrient-rich water. They are well suited for use as ornamentals in garden ponds. However, they do not tolerate acidic water (Christiansen and Hancke 1993, 89*).
This perennial marsh grass develops a thick, creeping, branching rhizome from which runners grow into the swampy subsurface. The canes can grow from 1 to 3 meters tall. The leaves have rough margins and can attain a length of 40 to 50 cm and a width of 1 to 2 cm. The very large, 15 to 40 cm long panicle is multiflorous and develops four- to six-flowered dark violet spikelets. The flowering period is from July to September (Christiansen and Hancke 1993, 88*). The seeds do not ripen until the winter, when the plant also loses its leaves. The panicle then usually turns light white in color. The new shoots begin to appear in early summer and grow rather slowly. The subspecies altissimuscan grow to a height of at least 5 meters. In the tropics, the reed can attain a height of up to 10 meters and is then easily confused with Arundo donax (Aichele and Hofmann 1991, 120*). The reed can be easily distinguished from Arundo donax by the fact that its panicle hangs only to one side (Germer 1985, 205*).
—Root (reed root, radix arundinis vulgaris)
Preparation and Dosage
The fresh or dried rootstock (20 to 50 g) is boiled for at least fifteen minutes, combined with 3 g of Peganum harmala seeds, and drunk as an ayahuasca analog. Exercise care when determining dosages!
To the Navajo, the reed is a sacred plant of ritual significance. According to the Navajo creation myth, the reed saved humanity (i.e., the Navajo) during the Great Flood. The Navajo received the reed from a holy person. Humans, animals, and insects climbed into the magical reed, which immediately grew up to the sky. So that it would be able to grow straight up, a holy person took a feather and attached it to the ascending reed, like the feathers on an arrow. For this reason, the reed still has a flower that flutters like a feather in the wind. The shaft of the reed is used to make prayer poles for all ceremonies and healing rituals (Mayes and Lacy 1989, 101 f.*).
The Serí Indians of northern Mexico used fragments of the reed to smoke wild tobacco species (see Nicotiana spp.).
The cosmopolitan reed (Phragmites australis) contains potent psychoactive substances.
“I boiled 45 g of roots of Phragmites australis for 15 minutes to make a tea. I then ingested a normal dose of Peganum harmala, 3 g. It was the most exceptional and pristine experience of my life and definitely the most powerful trip with an ayahuasca analog that I had had to that point. Very visual, with awe-inspiring insights into myself and the world. God, what a day! Six hours full of mind-shattering insights and revelations. Unbelievable sensations of intense beauty. Visions of golden worlds beyond any conception. . . . I was emotionally deeply moved by the exquisiteness and beauty of the experience. . . . There was no nausea or other side effects.”
ANONYMOUS “PHRAGMITES AUSTRALIS” (1995, 39)
The reed is depicted in numerous works of art from ancient Egypt, e.g., in the wall paintings at Medinet Habu and Amarna. A hieroglyph (j) was derived from the characterisic flower panicle (Germer 1985, 205 f.*).
The Navajo make the stalks into prayer poles, and many cultures use them to make arrow shafts.
In late ancient times, the finely ground root was mixed with onions to prepare a wrap or plant poultice for removing thorns and splinters. “Mixed [with] vinegar, it soothes dislocations and hip pains” (Dioscorides 1.114). In Europe, the herbage was once used as a diuretic (Schneider 1974, 3:54*). An infusion of the roots is used in folk medicine for the same purpose (Aichele and Hofmann 1991, 120*); it can also be used to treat mucus obstruction, coughing, lung pains, and hiccups (Bremness 1995, 202*).
The Navajo use a tea as an emetic agent to treat certain stomach and skin problems (Mayes and Lacy 1989, 101*).
The rootstock contains N,N-DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, bufotenine, and gramine (Wassel et al. 1985).
Dioscorides stated that the flower tufts of Phragmites australis—like those of Arundo donax—cause deafness if they get into the ear (1.114).
Reports about the psychoactive effects of Phragmites australis are based almost exclusively on experiences with ayahuasca analogs that are composed of the root extract, lemon juice, and Peganum harmala seeds. Unpleasant side effects (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea) are usually mentioned (Eros 1995).
Commercial Forms and Regulations
The common reed (Phragmites australis) is the largest naturally occurring true grass in central Europe. (Woodcut from Tabernaemontanus, Neu Vollkommen Kräuter-Buch, 1731)
See also the entries for Arundo donax, Phalaris arundinacea, and ayahuasca analogs.
Anonymous. 1995. Phragmites Australis—Eine weitere Pflanze zur Ayahuasca-Bereitung. Entheogene 4:39–40.
Eros. 1995. Phragmites australis: positiv. Entheogene 5:43.
Wassel, G. M., S. M. El-Difrawy, and A. A. Saeed. 1985. Alkaloids from the rhizomes of Phragmites australis Cav. Scientia Pharmaceutica 53:169–70.