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Trail Foods: Wild Ginger or Asarum caudatum and Asarum canadense

Foragers often have a niche when it comes to their skills; some are fixated on fungi, others gaga for green and herbaceous plants, and even more are nuts for, well, nuts! I like to think I love all food-producing plants equally, although my strength is typically with identifying things green. I find it easier to recognize patterns of growth with green understory type plants. However, my skills are challenged by green shaded plants that have heart-shaped leaves and grow close to the ground. Weird, I know, but it's probably because I live in tidal wetlands so the local woods are devoid of greenery with the exception of greenbriar (Smilax rotundifolia).

Wild Ginger, or Asarum canadense leaves
Fortunately, a forager can use more than just the sense of sight to identify a plant. The mint family is usually very easy to determine, based not only on the square stem and opposite leaves, but also because the leaves, when crushed, contain volatile oils which depart a very distinctive and pleasant odor. Wild Ginger, or Asarum caudatum, is another plant which is readily identified with smell.

The 3-Petaled flower with Recurved tips, and Fuzzy Stem of Asarum

Wild ginger is not the same ginger you may be used to buying in the store. The latin name for store-bought ginger is Zingiber officinale.Zingiber is native to Asia, and in a completely different family than American wild ginger. While wild ginger smells very similar to store bought, and the plant is used in the same way by herbal practitioners, the efficacy has not been proved to be the same. Additionally, many have questioned the safety of wild ginger.

During the 1990's, a bunch of people in Europe developed kidney failure after ingesting diet pills that contained a high amount of a substance found in Asarum of a different species. Hank Shaw does a fabulous job of writing about why we should limit our oral intake of Asarum, although it appears it should only be enjoyed as a water-based infusion or tisane. This is one herb you don't want to drink in a tincture, or alcohol-based infusion.

Asarum does have it's redeeming qualities. One study that found that an extract of one Asarum species proved effective on treating Human Papilloma Virus.

Look for two heart-shaped leaves on fuzzy stems of approximately equal length. The three-leaved, purplish-brown flower is easily identified in the spring. Here is a video I took just outside of Washington, D.C., in May.


  1. Amy, your blogs and videos are very interesting and you are knowledgeable on a wide array of topics.
    It's nice to learn things that quite frankly, I do not know much about.
    Your love for the outdoors is both evident and inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks so much for the nice comment! I am self taught, so am always learning (a student of everything, a master of nothing, lol). I hope to inspire others to get out and appreciate our natural world as much as I do!