Asarum canadense – Wild Ginger

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Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) is a native perennial that can be found in moist woodlands.
Wild ginger often forms dense colonies by rhizome. It can be found at the base of rocky slopes and along rivers. It prefers partial to full shade.
 
Wild ginger has heart-shaped leaves that are usually in pairs. It produces flowers at ground level in the spring. The flowers have a scent reminiscent of rotting meat to attract flies and crawlers for pollination.
The plant has a horizontal rhizome just below the surface that smells like cultivated ginger when bruised. However, this plant is not closely related to cultivated ginger.
 
Wild ginger leaves and rhizomes can be turned into a tea which can be drank, turned into ice cream, or used as a mouth wash. Wild ginger contains aristolochic acid which is a kidney toxin. Only 1% of the toxin is extracted in the tea. However, this plant should be used sparsely and infrequently. The plant should not be consumed raw.
Wild ginger is a native plant that is threatened in some states. Less than 10% of leaves should be collected and it should only be gathered from large patches. There is a way to harvest rhizomes sustainably. Collect rhizomes that connect two plants and then re-plant the intact roots that are at the base of each individual plant.
 
Wild ginger is also a wonderful native to plant in shady areas of your yard.
 
Wild ginger has been used by Native Americans to treat cramps and upset stomach. It has also been used topically as an antimicrobial wash. Wild ginger should be avoided in those who are pregnant as it has been used as an abortifacient and contraceptive.

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Written by Amy Demers, founder of the Connecticut Foraging Club. To learn more about foraging in Connecticut, check out our upcoming classes.

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