Asarum Canadense

Wild Ginger: Canadian Wild Ginger, Canadian Snake Root, Indian Ginger, Heart Snakeroot, Colt's Foot

Botany: 

Wild ginger is a small shade-loving perennial that grows on the floors of deciduous forests in Canada and the eastern U.S.  It can grow 6-12 inches high with leaves sometimes measuring up to 6 inches across. Leaves are dark green, usually paired and heart-shaped.  It has single 3-parted red-brown bell-shaped flowers measuring an inch across, and usually blooms between April and May. Its root structure forms rhizomes that spread just below the soil surface. 1,6,10

Chemistry:

The main ingredient of interest in wild ginger is aristolochic acid. Most of the observable effects can be attributed to this compound.10,12,17  The stem and root (rhizome) that peek just above the surface of the soil is the part of the plant that contains the highest concentration of this substance.10

Fun Fact:

Native Americans thought that eating wild ginger would protect someone if they ate meat that was spoiled, poisoned, or had a spell cast on it.7

History:

Many Native American tribes used this herb for a variety of ailments. The Iroquois and Ojibwa used it as an appetite stimulant. The Algonquin, Cherokee, and Iroquois used it as a fever inducer. The Cherokee, Malecite, Micmac, Menominee,  Meskwaki,  and Ojibwa tribes used it as a gastrointestinal aid.1,4,6,10 Wild ginger has also been used to cause menstrual bleeding.4,11,12 Also, many tribes used this herb for cooking and to make other foods (such as catfish) more palatable.1, 6,12,13

Uses/Pharmacology:

Wild ginger is still being used by those trained in traditional Chinese medicine. It is used as a pain reliever, anesthetic, fever inducer, antitussive (cough suppressant), sweat promoter, diuretic (increases urine flow), and hypotensive (blood pressure lowering).17 It is also said do prevent premature ejaculation if rubbed on the skin of the penis, however more research is needed to assess this claim that it treats this type of sexual dysfunction.17 High doses of aristolochic acid are linked to kidney failure and even cancer.10 Aristolochic acid also has antimicrobial activity against a variety of bacteria and fungi (especially gram positive bacteria).4 This substance is also seen to have anti-tumor properties, thus may be an effective form of cancer treatment if manipulated in the correct way.4 This seems contradictory since aristolochic acid is classified as a carcinogen, however, as most pharmacologists know, “the only difference between a drug and a poison is the dose”.2

Dosing/Recipes:

Wild ginger has been shown to be a very effective diaphoretic (sweat promoter). The dose to do so is one-half a dram (one dram is about 3.5 grams) of dry powder.11 A potential recipe for an infusion is as follows: 1 cup boiling water on 1/2 to one teaspoonful root, infuse for 8 minutes.12  

Contraindications/Interactions/Adverse Reactions:

Wild ginger should never be ingested while pregnant. Its active compounds can induce menstrual bleeding.4,11,12  It  has actually been used as a contraceptive by the Native Americans because of this property!

References Cited:

 

  1. USDA, NRCS. 2004. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5 (http://plants.usda.gov). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874 USA.
  2. McMillin DL et al. Determination of Aristolochic acid in Asarum canadense (Wild Ginger). Meridian Institute. July 2003; 1-3.
  3. Wood GB. A Treatise on Therapeutics and Pharmacology: a Materia Medica. Page 356. Lippincott, 1856. Oxford University. Digitized Sept 4th, 2006.
  4. Erichsen-Brown C. Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants: A Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes. General Publishing Company Ltd., Toronto, Ontario. 1979.
  5. http://www.hort.wisc.edu/mastergardener/Features/foliageplants/asarum/asarum.htm
  6. http://www.easywildflowers.com/quality/asa.can.htm
  7. http://www.2bnthewild.com/plants/H36.htm
  8. http://pss.uvm.edu/pss123/wwasarum.html
  9. http://www.paghat.com/asarum4.html
  10. http://bioweb.uwlax.edu/bio203/s2009/may_magg/
  11. http://www.henriettesherbal.com/eclectic/kings/asarum-cana.html
  12. http://www.herbco.com/p-513-canadian-snake-root-cs.aspx
  13. http://www.herbcompanion.com/Herb-Profiles/An-Herb-To-Know-Wild-Ginger.aspx
  14. http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/g/ginwil14.html
  15. http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=1&taxon_id=233500168
  16. http://www.henriettesherbal.com/eclectic/harding/asarum.html
  17. http://www.healthline.com/natstandardcontent/asarum
  18. Cowallito CJ, Bailey JH. Antibacterial Substances from Asarum Canadense l. Isolation Physical Properties and Antibacterial Action. J Am Chem Soc. 1946;68(3):489-92.

Researched By: Zak Tressel