Tuesday, September 11, 2012

UNDER THE WILD GINGER – The Birth of a Book Title

Wild ginger may refer to any of a wide variety of plants, often with a similar appearance, odor or taste to cultivated ginger. Among the many genuses is Asarum, which itself comprises some 60 species. The most common here in Minnesota is Asarum Canadense, also referred to occasionally as Canada snakeroot.

Asarum Canadense is native to the forests, yards and gardens 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. Spreading through rhizomes, it grows best in rich soils and prefers dappled to full shade.

Wild ginger is not a true ginger but gained the name because the root makes an excellent ginger substitute and the leaves smell of ginger when crushed. (Though it is said to have been used medicinally by Native Americans and European settlers, some sources describe the leaves as quite toxic, to both skin and the digestive system.)

Lewis and Clark mentioned wild ginger in their journals. While camping along the Lolo Trail, Lewis wrote:
Pott's legg which has been much swolen and inflamed for several days is much better this evening and gives him but little pain. we applyed the pounded roots and leaves of the wild ginger & from which he found great relief.
Even at first glance, Asarum Canadense is a beautiful thing. Usually found as a thick, perennial ground cover, each plant has two satiny, dark green, heart-shaped leaves, about the size of one’s hand, on six- to ten-inch hairy stems. They have a distinctive vein pattern which subtly puckers their surface.

Very nice. But the true wonder of wild ginger— as with many of the wonders I celebrate in my writing—lies hidden to first glances. Curious? Well then, stay tuned, my friends…



Anonymous said...

Our variety of ginger here on the west coast or in the northwest is Asarum caudatum. Strange how I too have read that so many things are toxic or poisoness or whatever, and then read from other sources... a plant could have been used in a positive manner and highly celebrated. For instance, I eat the leaves of this ginger every now and again for the fun of it.... for as an explorer.... One can use their inner senses to redefine and create new and evolving relationships with any component of Nature. What ever one is attracted to is in essence a mystery to be investigated and expanded upon. With these new connections... we transform not only our inner selves, but the entire community of organisms that we are inherently all linked to. By listening to how the world speaks to us... we expand upon our evolving language to sing a unique song that is in harmony with that which is truly alive in the universe.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Bernie -- I couldn't agree more with your comment about connections and harmony! BTW, how would you describe the taste of your wild ginger leaves?

Anonymous said...

Its somewhat of a weaker version of the roots but with a citrusy overtone. The leaves themselves as you know are thick, so they are not very tender, and they are a tiny bit fuzzy. Makes me wonder now what the flower tastes like. :) Nature truly provides the spice to life.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Bernie - I'll have to try tasting it, but I think I'll wait till spring when I assume the plant will be fresh and relatively tender.

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