Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense)

Wild Ginger, sometimes known as Canada Snakeroot, is a small stemless perennial plant in the Aristolochiaceae family, native to deciduous forests of Eastern North American. A similar variety, Asarum caudatum, is native to California and found in redwood and yellow pine forests. The Eastern variety is considered a threatened species. Both wild gingers have an aromatic, branched rhizome from which pairs of finely-haired, kidney shaped leaves with long slender petioles grow. The leaves are simple and have entire margins. It also has small, maroon flowers that grow from the leaf junction. Both flowers and leaves are hairy; the flowers have three sepals, tan to purple on the outside and lighter inside, with tapered tips and bases fused into a cup. It prefers shady areas and well drained, rich, mesic soils.

Parts Used
Leaves and roots, although the properties are more concentrated in the root-stalk

Medicinal Uses
Wild ginger promotes menses and stimulates blood circulation while opening up meridians and stimulating chi flow. The root has valulable carminative properties useful for treating upset stomach, promoting digestion, and helping to eliminate gas and colic. In addition, it has expectorant, diaphoretic, and diuretic actions that can help sweat out fevers and flus and clear the lungs of catarrh. The Chinese variety of the herb is useful for headaches, sinus congestion, and nerve pain of the face. Wild Ginger contains the anti-tumor compound aristolochic acid.

Folk Uses
In California, the Pomo Indians used the Californian variety as a seasoning and for treating colds, sore throats, nervous conditions, dysentery, fever, headaches, digestive issues, and cramps. The women used to drink it monthly before each menstrual cycle as a contraceptive. The fresh leaves can be eaten raw in salads, and oil from the root is used in perfumes.

Flavor Profile and Energetics
Spicy, bitter, warming, pungent. The root smells similar to cultivated ginger, but is more peppery.

1 tsp of dried plant per cup of water, taken hot, warm, or cold, 1-2 cups throughout the day. As a tincture, 2-5 drops throughout the day. Avoid large doses, as the herb contains aristolochic acid, which can lead to kidney failure if used excessively. You can read more about this at Honest Food.

For digestive issues, other carminative herbs such as peppermint or calamus, depending on the trouble. For fevers and colds, yarrow, echinacea, and elder.

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Wild ginger on the forest floor.

Wild ginger on the forest floor.