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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 communisvar. isiacus (Del.) Coss. et DR.

Folk Names

Calamus vallaris, canna sepiaria, carrizo, carrizo

de panocha, common reed, 'eqpe'w (Chumash),

gemeines rohr, gemeines schilfrohr, harundo,

'iqpew, 16k'aa' (Navajo, "tube"), kalamos, phragmites

(Greek), ranctil, 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



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 em. 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

altissimus can 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*).
Psychoactive Material

- 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


Ritual Use

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 Sed Indians of northern Mexico used fragments

of the reed to smoke wild tobacco species

(see Nicotiana spp.).


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.

Medicinal Use

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 donaxcause

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



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


Wassel, G. M., S. M. El-Difrawy, and A. A. Saeed.

1985. Alkaloids from the rhizomes of Phragmites

australis Cay. Scientia Pharmaeeutica 53:169-70.

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