Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Wild Ginger Identified


There are some wild edibles that we read about long before we find them. We have an ever-changing wishlist of plants we want to find, photograph, and taste in different stages of growth and in different seasons. Wild ginger is a plant we had unknowingly encountered in the past, admiring it for its unusual flower and pretty foliage. Upon becoming interested in the edible and medicinal properties of ginger, we have had a difficult time finding it in our immediate area. We finally got a tip on where to find large patches of wild ginger, and looked for it this weekend while in the western side of Connecticut. Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) is not closely related to commercial ginger, but the flavor and aroma are similar, and the rhizome can be used in the same ways as commercial ginger. Wild ginger is found in moist, shady forests from southeastern Canada into the mountain regions of Georgia, along the east coast of the United States, and as far west as the Dakotas. The rhizomes like undisturbed, rich soil and can be dug from spring to autumn.

Wild ginger is a native herbaceous perennial that spreads through its rhizomes underground. Colonies of ginger will carpet the forest floor in dense patches. The pretty, heart-shaped leaves are 4"-7" wide, reach up to 12" tall, and grow in pairs. They rise directly from the rhizome on fuzzy leafstalks, and the leaf is dark green on top and lighter green on the underside. The leaves are veined and completely soft and fuzzy. Because of the handsome appearance of the foliage, wild ginger makes a good addition to a shady, moist area of your yard as native landscaping.


In April and May, a flower grows on a short stem from the crotch of each paired leafstalk. It is an unusual and beautiful bloom, often hidden beneath the leaves and laying against the ground. The color of the petal-like lobes is a dark maroon, or purplish-brown, and the interior of the flower is cream colored. Even the exterior of the flower and the curled back lobes are softly fuzzy like the leaf stems and leaves. The flower grows close to the ground because it is pollinated by ants. Often, you will have to clear away forest debris and leaves to find the flower. A fleshy, six-celled fruit will develop later in the spring.

The rhizome of wild ginger is what is gathered and eaten, and used for medicinal purposes. It often grows just beneath the top of the soil and is easy to dig. Collect just a small percentage, less than 10%, of the roots from a patch to assure the health of the colony. The rhizomes are branched and covered with many smaller roots, connecting much of a patch together. They are about the thickness of a pencil and brittle, snapping apart easily. The aroma is fragrant and spicy, and the rhizome can be prepared in many ways, using greater quantities than commercial ginger since the flavor of wild ginger is more subtle. It can be dried and powdered, candied, and used grated in recipes. Medicinally, wild ginger is used to settle an upset stomach and to alleviate gas, nausea, and fevers. Wild ginger has antibiotic and antifungal properties, and was used by Native American tribes as a seasoning and medicine.


11 comments:

Teresa said...

I've not seen that much ginger in Connecticut, just small isolated patches. There is real danger that people will run out and overharvest, which has happened in the past. For that reason, I feel that no ginger should be harvested and harvesting should not be promoted. On my blogs, I never post pictures or the locations where I find it growing along the trails. I don't even mention it. Instead, encourage people to buy ginger (ground at nursery, not wild-harvested) and plant it at home. Harvest that. Earth Tones in Woodbury sells only native plants and they do carry true wild ginger. Beware, some other nurseries will try to sell you ginger from China and say it's native.

Kristina said...

I love your blog. I learn every day from it. I am now watching wild mustard on our property. I have several books on my wish list now too. Thanks for foraging and photographing and sharing.

Marie said...

I feel the same as Teresa about wild ginger. I don't believe that harvesting it is sustainable any more. It is extremely slow growing, and an increasingly uncommon native. A solution is to grow it in gardens, but I suppose that takes the fun away :-)

The 3 Foragers said...

Once again, I will point out that we are 3 people who gather plants for our own personal use. We harvest sustainably, and we only take what we will use. On our blog, we will post pictures and information about our experiences. What anyone does on their blog is up to them. How anyone else obtains their wild ginger is up to them.

Wild ginger is only listed as threatened in one state, Maine. We don't encounter it often, therefore we don't harvest it often. Nowhere do we advocate commercial harvest, nor do we post locations of the plants we find.

Thanks for offering some opposing views, and following it up with a suggestion for alternate sources of wild ginger.

Karen

Marina@Picnic at Marina said...

Thanks for keeping us informed on a wild flora. I learn a lot from you.

"Wildman" Steve Brill said...

We've harvested wild ginger from the same places along the Bronx River in Crestwood for 30 years with large groups of people. We take a small fraction where it's very abundant, barely thinning out the stands. In all that time, there's been no decrease whatsoever. I think that's pretty good evidence that large stands can be harvested sustainably.

However, its safety has recently been questioned, so don't use it very often myself anymore. Here's what I have to say about it in my WildEdibles app:

Recent research indicates that the aristolochic acid this plant contains is carcinogenic and toxic to the kidneys, but since this plant, which has been so useful for hundreds of years, hasn't been getting people sick, its moderate use as a seasoning and tea doesn't seem unduly risky, although it's your choice whether or not to use it.

Ellen Zachos said...

I've also read about toxicity, but I haven't found anything more than vague references, so I continue to eat it in moderation (so delicious!). I'd love to see some real specifics on the studies. In PA it grows prolifically along streams and in the woods. I transplanted a few plants into my own garden 10 years ago and it has spread more quickly than I expected.

Marken said...

Excellent post sharing i like this...
Organic Food Toowoomba

Prairie said...

Great Blog! I am happy to see other foragers getting this information out to the world!
I have been eating wild ginger for several years now in small amounts, and this spring the leaves started looking appetizing to me, so i started eating a few of the little guys early in the year on my foraging endeavors, no ill effects. As my confidence grew, so did the wild ginger leaves, and i placed several medium to large leaves in a wild edibles salad i usually make (nettle, catnip, dock, violet, dandelion etc) and munched away. About an hour later I became ill, and felt the urge to vomit. The next hour was spent running inside and out with horrible stomach cramps, with my salad violently leaving my body. I stumbled to a place where prairie experts preside and explained my situation, they didn't seem worried and told me to go take a nap in the warm greenhouse. I passed out for about two hours and had some strange dreams. I woke up feeling a bit strange, yet very aware of the power of the plant and all others. I will never eat wild ginger leaves again, it is not enjoyable whatsoever. I learned a valuable lesson in wild foods that day, one that i won't be soon to forget or repeat.

riki jorden said...

Thanks for sharing information on Foragers, i have visited your blog great post................

garden landscape toowoomba













Anonymous said...

I am a young forager and novice herbalwife practitioner in oregon. This information was very useful, and in oregon another form of wild ginger grows. It is called Western Wild Giger or Asarum Caudatum. The leaves are generally darker green than the ginger in your blog, because the ginger shown here is Canadian wild ginger. In oregon, it is very abundant if you know where to look. Very tasty, and very healthy and useful in the concoctions and teas i make and experiment with. I have also been thinking of trying to transplant a few specimens from a dense colony, to a rather beren one, hoping that it can succesfully grow, which would increase the amout found in the wild. Hopefully it works out. I am going to start an herb garden this spring, so i can have lots of samples to work with in discovering more remedies. this blog is great and look forward to reading more posts in the near future.

Francis Labrynthi