Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Asarum canadensis

Our native Ginger seems to be known by a number of names, most of which I haven't heard used, at least in this part of the country. In addition to wild ginger, there is also Canada snakeroot, Indian ginger, colic root, false coltsfoot and catfoot. Commercial Ginger, the kind you buy at the supermarket, is a tropical and can't be grown here. Most people know that a tea made from ginger root will relieve stomach ache or morning sickness. It's a bit too spicy for my taste, but it does work. Our native ginger will work in the same way.
Wild ginger is found in moist woods from Maine to Georgia and west to Ohio. It is a low-growing, stemless herb, easily distinguished by its heart-shaped leaves forne in pairs, and its tiny, bell-shaped, brown or dark maroon flowers which hide at the base of the plant and are sometimes mostly hidden by the leaf litter of the forest floor.

The thickened root, or rhizome, is dug in the spring, dried, and used in powdered form as an aromatic bitter and carminative. Meyer's Herbalist suggests an infusion of 1 teaspoon of dried root to 1 pint of boiling water, a wineglassful taken as often as needed. A stronger infusion may well be useful in inducing copious sweating when such a circumstance is desired. Its use as a component of other valuable, but less pleasant, drugs is also indicated. It is likely that this was one of the well-known medicinal plants of the Native Americans.
We have large patches of ginger growing here in the woods, mostly on north-facing slopes where it gets little, if any, direct sun. It is a woodsy thing and seems to like deep, rich soil and a moist sort of place. We have a huge colony on a hill across the creek and up the hill from our parking lot - kind of a mess to get to with no bridge and all of the wild blackberries and other sorts of thorny things that grow along the creek, but lovely in the spring with the ginger, trilliums, all sorts of ferns, yellow violets, dog tooth violets, wild geraniums, mayapples and many more I'm sure I'm forgetting. On warm springs they are all in bloom on my birthday and I just go there and sit and enjoy.

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