Wild Ginger

Found widely through northern temperate zones, but centered on Japan, this genus consists of 70 or more rhizomatous, deciduous or evergreen perennials. Wild gingers are mostly woodland plants with a creeping habit and ginger-like smell. Their foliage resembles that of cyclamens; it is mainly for this feature that several species are popular in rock gardens and as groundcover. Several Asarum species are used medicinally as stimulating, warming remedies. In addition to A. canadense, these include asarabacca (A. europaeum) from N and E Europe, which has expectorant, emetic, and purgative properties, and the Chinese wild ginger (A. sieboldii) which is often combined with Ephedra (See joint fir) for coldsa nd chills. Characteristically, asarums contain, aristolochic acid, which can cause liver and kidney damage (see birthwort) and asarone, a carcinogenic substance also found in Acorus calamus (see sweet flag). As a consequence, medicinal use of asarums is subject to legal restrictions in some countries.

Evergreen, prostrate perennial with a slender rhizome, smelling strongly of ginger, and dark green, hair, heart-shaped leaves, 5-20cm (2-8in) across. Urn-shaped, purple-brown flowers on short stalks are borne near ground level in spring.

Common Name:
Wild Ginger
Botanical Name:
Asarum canadense
Native Location:
Eastern N America
Well-drained, moist soil, enriched with leaf mold, in a shady, sheltered site.
By seed sown when ripe; by division in early spring.
Sections of rhizome are removed in autumn, and dried for powders, decoctions, liquid extracts, and tinctures.
8cm (3in)
60cm (24in)
Parts Used:
A bitter, pungent, aromatic, antibiotic herb that stimulates the digestive and respiratory systems, and uterus, and increases perspiration. It acts as a diuretic, expectorant, and decongestant.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally for coughs, asthma, chills, and rheumatic disorders. Women of the N American Pomo tribe take wild ginger as a contraceptive, and in Western medicine it is used to regulate menstruation and as a stimulant in difficult labor (but not in earlier stages of pregnancy). The Ojibwa tribe combined it with Aralia racemosa (see American spikenard) in poultices for fractures. Not given to pregnant women.
Culinary Uses:
Ginger-flavored rhizomes are candied or made into a syrup.
Encylopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright ©: 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited pg 134