Canada Wild Ginger (Asarum Canadense)

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Asarum canadense, commonly known as Canadian wild ginger or Canadian snake-root , is a herbaceous (meaning a plant the simply loses its leaves and stem to soil level at the end of the season) plant native to deciduous forest in eastern North America, from the Great Plains east to the Atlantic Coast, and from southeastern Canada south to approximately the fall line in the southeastern United States.

The plant roots are shallow-growing, fleshy rhizomes that branch to form a clump. Leaves are kidney-shaped and persistent. Its flowers are hairy having three sepals, tan to purple on the outside and lighter inside, with tapered tips and bases fused into a cup.

A tidbit of information for Trivial Pursuit, Asarum canadense is protected by the state of Maine as a threatened species.

Native Americans used the long rhizomes as a seasoning. It has similar aromatic properties to true ginger; however, it should not be used as a substitute due to fact that it contains an unknown concentration aristolochic acid, a carcinogen. Canadian snake-root oil is a distillate from ground root. The odor and flavor are spicy and has been used in many flavor preparations.

Native Americans used the plant as a medicinal herb to treat a number of ailments including dysentery, digestive problems, swollen breasts, coughs and colds, typhus, scarlet fever, nerves, sore throats, cramps, heaves, earaches, headaches, convulsions, asthma, tuberculosis, urinary disorders and venereal disease. In addition, they also used it as a stimulant, an appetite enhancer and a charm. It was also used as an admixture to strengthen other herbal preparations.

For the fisherman, to improve the taste of Mud catfish, cook it with Canadian wild ginger. Want to catch more catfish, chew on the root and then spit on your bait.

Now here is a real Trivial Pursuit tidbit, Canadian wild ginger is an alternate food source for the pipe-vine swallowtail butterfly.

The Canadian wild ginger is propagated by seed. To collect the seed, gather the mealy fruits when they first begin to split. Clean the seeds, washing off all of the pulp and might prevent germination. Plant these seeds immediately in a shaded seedbed, keeping them well watered throughout the summer for good results the following spring.

If it is not possible to plant the seeds immediately they can be stored; however, they must not become dry. Place the seeds .with slightly moist vermiculite in a sealed plastic bag at 40 F.
Seeds can also be sown in plugs and transferred several times to larger containers. They should be placed in a greenhouse for three months and then moved to a cold frame for three months before planting outdoors.

For an easier way to propagate Canadian ginger is to divide mature plants in early autumn just as they begin to go dormant. Using the proper garden too, cut the rhizome at intervals of 6-8 inches, Replant the new cuttings immediately and water thoroughly.

If your local nursery does carry this particular plant, Canadian Ginger, try the many nurseries online. A note of caution, if purchasing a plant from outside your native state, check with your state agricultural department if an inspection is required and average clearance time.

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Author: John Hoffman
I am a retired aerospace engineer that over the years has acquired a rewarding hobby of gardening and landscapes. Within the scope of my new hobby, I have been fortunate enough to further my freelance writing career under contract to whose expertise has been invaluable.

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