Wild ginger

Wild ginger
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Wild ginger refers to an herbaceous plant genus Asarum (Á-sa-rum) of about 10 species in the birthwort family Aristolochiaceae.

Asarum canadense is native to the forests of eastern North America. It is found from the Great Plains east to the Atlantic Coast, and from southeastern Canada south to approximately the fall line in the southeastern United States.

Asarum caudatum is found in British Columbia south through Washington and Oregon to central California, and from the Coast Range east to western Montana.

The plant is called wild ginger because the rhizome tastes and smells similar to that of ginger root, but the two are not particularly related. The root can be used as a spice, but is a potent diuretic, or urinary stimulant. Asarum canadense and other species in the genus contain the chemical aristolochic acid, which is carcinogenic in rats. The birthwort family also contains the Aristolochia genus. Aristolochia is a human carcinogen.

Wild ginger favors moist, shaded sites with humus-rich soil. The deciduous, heart-shaped leaves are opposite, and borne from the rhizome which lies just under the soil surface. Two leaves emerge each year from the growing tip. The curious jug-shaped flowers, which give the plant an alternate name, little jug, are borne singly in Spring between the leaf bases.

Wild ginger can easily be grown in a shade garden, and makes an attractive groundcover.

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