Gramineae: Poaceae (Grass Family)
Forms and Subspecies
Several varieties and cultivars have been described,
including Phalaris arundinacea var. ~ picta 1.
(from North America), known as bent grass. The
widespread cultivar Phalaris arundinacea cv.
Turkey Red produces primarily 5-MeO-DMT
Baldingera arundinacea (1.) Dumort.
Phalaroides arundinacea (1.) Rauschert
Typhoides arundinacea (1.) Moench
Bentgrass, canarygrass, canary grass, glanzgras,
militz, phalaridos, randgras, 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 1. or
Phalaris canariensis 1.) 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 donax,
Phalaris 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
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.
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, 127ff.*).
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
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 Samorini1994).
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
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
And long I could it not resist, but sayd: Deere
For never shall I haunt thee more. And with
that woord I threw
My bodye in the sea. The Goddes thereof
Vouchsaved in theyr order mee installed for
Desyring old Oceanus and Thetis for theyr
The rest ofmy mortalitie away from mee to
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
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
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
Perhaps the "grass" was Phalaris arundinacea,
and a preparation was known in ancient times that
would have been suitable in rituals for animal
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
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
See also the entries for Arundo donax, Phragmites
australis, ayahuasca analogs, N,N-DMT, and 5MeO-
Appleseed, Johnny. 1993. Ayahuasca analog plant
complexes of the temperate zone: Phalaris
arundinacea and the Desmanthus spec.
---. 1995. Phalaris in groBen Mengen.
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
Marten, G. C. 1973. Alkaloids and palatability of
Phalaris arundinacea grown in diverse
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,1. 1987. Studies on genetic variation in reed
canarygrass, Phalaris arundinacea I: Alkaloidtype and concentration. Hereditas 107:235-48.