Gramineae: Poaceae (Grass Family)
Forms and Subspecies
At least two subspecies have been described
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.
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
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 oneside (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
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.
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
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.
Eros. 1995. Phragmites australis: positiv. Entheogene
Wassel, G. M., S. M. El-Difrawy, and A. A. Saeed.
1985. Alkaloids from the rhizomes of Phragmitesaustralis Cay. Scientia Pharmaeeutica 53:169-70.