Calamus (Gr. ). I. A sort of reed, which the ancients used as a pen for writing on parchment or papyrus. Those which came from Egypt and Onidus were the most esteemed. When the calamus became blunt, it was sharpened with a knife. It was split into two nibs, like our modern pens. It is still used in the East, a quill or metallic pen not being adapted for producing the flowing characters of the Arabic and similar alphabets. The reed from which these pens are made is about three quarters of an inch in circumference. This instrument must not be confounded with the stilus, which was only used for writing on wax tablets. II. In the pastoral poets of antiquity, a pipe of reed, in construction probably resembling a fife or flageolet. III. In modern botany, a genus of palms furnishing the rattan canes of commerce. (See Rattan.) IV. The sweet flag (acorus calamus), growing in swamps, ponds, and on the banks of rivers in England and in the cooler parts of Europe, the East Indies, and America. The thick stem sends up several lance-shaped leaves 2 or 3 ft. long, which when bruised are aromatic, and hence were formerly strewed as rushes in the cathedrals.
The rhizome has a strong, aromatic, slightly acrid taste, and is used in medical practice as a stimulant, especially in some kinds of indigestion, by confectioners for candy, and by perfumers in preparing aromatic vinegar and some other articles.
Sweet Flag (Acorus calamus, or Calamus aromaticus).