Wild gingerBotanical name: Asarum canadensePronunciation...


March 30, 1991|By Amalie Adler Ascher

Wild ginger

Botanical name: Asarum canadense

Pronunciation: as-AR-rum

Family: Aristolochiaceae (Birthwort)

Common name: Wild ginger, Canadian snakeroot

Origin: Eastern North America

Class: Perennial

Display period: Spring through fall

Height: 4 to 6 inches

Environment: Shade

A plant described as "creeping erratically along the ground as if it was not sure just where it is going" acquires instant personality, and indeed the wild ginger offers such appeal. As a perennial, wild flower and herb, it fits into several niches, but in the garden it will live in supreme contentment in shade that is deeper than can be endured by most other plants.

Wild ginger is rated as "one of the very best" ground covers for a sun-shy situation, forming a lustrous green carpet with its underground root stocks. The carpet it forms is so dense that weeds stand little chance of penetrating it. Plants make a fine edging, too, and they'll also do well in a rock garden.

In one poll, wild ginger was ranked by gardeners nationwide in the top 12 favorite plants despite its small, insignificant, brownish flowers, which usually are obscured by the plant's large, heart-shaped leaves. The foliage, in fact, constitutes the plant's attraction.

Wild ginger takes its common name (the source of the genus name, Asarum, is unknown) from the ginger-like odor and flavor of its roots and foliage. Although the plant is unrelated to tropical culinary ginger, the American Indians dried the roots to serve as a seasoning to substitute for it. The roots were also used to relieve upset stomachs.

According to George Schenk in "The Complete Shade Gardener" (recently released by Houghton Mifflin in an updated and expanded edition), wild ginger's rhizomes are delicious when candied.

The environment wild ginger likes best -- cool shade and a rich, moderately moist, slightly acid soil -- also attracts slugs, the plant's principal enemy. The plants are otherwise pretty much care-free. Asaram europaeum, a European species of wild ginger, is an especially desirable form for its shiny, evergreen leaves.

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