Asarum, popularly known as wild ginger, Indian ginger and Canada snakeroot, has kidney shaped leaves and a ginger flavored rhizome tasting root; however, it is not related to the common ginger used in various culinary preparations. Because of the jug shaped leaves, this herb is also known as “little jug”. The root of wild ginger is used as a spice in these regions, but also has some side effects, which need to be taken into account. It is also referred as asarabacca and is a low growing birthwort herb, which is a collective reference to all the species of this plant.
Asarum is an herb that grows mostly in the temperate, moist and humus rich woodland regions of the northern hemisphere in countries such as China, Vietnam and Japan in East Asia and also in northern Europe and North America. Various tribes of Native America are known to have used this stem and roots of this herb for contraceptive purpose. The roots and stem are boiled in water and the resultant liquid was consumed.
Types of Wild Ginger
There are many types of wild ginger, especially in East Asia and though they are mostly used for ornamental purpose, the roots are used for medicinal and culinary purposes as well –
- Japanese Wild Ginger, botanically known as Asarum asoerum and Asarum hirsutasepalem – two varieties of Japanese origin
- Canadian Wild Ginger, known as Asarum canadense – found in eastern US and Canada
- Western Wild Ginger, known as Asarum caudatum – found in Western Oregon, it is also known as long tailed wild ginger, because of its pointed jug shaped leaves. The leaves and the root of this variety have the same spicy smell like the culinary ginger.
- Chinese Giant Wild Ginger, known as Asarum delavayi and Asarum magnificum – two varieties found in China in the shady areas of NE Yunnan and SW Sichuan mountains.
- Panda Face Ginger, known as Asarum maximum – this Chinese variety has panda faced flowers and grows in the elevated forests of Sichuan and Hubei.
- Taiwanese Wild Ginger, known as Asarum pigynum
- European Wild Ginger, also known as Asarum europaeum – found in Western Europe.
The main culinary use of Asarum is as a spice because of its strong spicy ginger flavor and taste; however, its use is limited because of its diuretic effect.
Though the culinary use of this root is limited, there are many medicinal uses connected to Asarum and Asarum oil –
- It is used as an herbal remedy for treating urinary problems. It acts as a diuretic stimulant.
- This herb is also used as an effective antiseptic and used in deodorants
- The stem and roots are used as herbicide and the dried roots are burned to be used as an insect repellent.
Asarum is known to have a few side effects when used or consumed more than the suggested proportion –
- It is known to cause skin irritation when touched with bare hands.
- The aristolochic acid present in the flowers of this herb are known to cause kidney failure, cancer and also result in cell mutations; hence, it is advisable to check with an expert before using them.
- Asarum or wild ginger tends to grow easily in a well shaded garden; hence, it is grown in most gardens as a groundcover plant. It is a favorite with most landscape designers.
- The herb was called “wart chase” by the early American hunters, because of its wart removal properties.