Native to the dense forests of eastern North America, the wild ginger is known by many other names; Canada wild ginger, Canadian snakeroot, etc. Botanically, this perennial herb is known as Asarum canadense, and belongs to the genus Asarum. Mostly known for its foliage, there are about fifty known species within this genus.
Heart-shaped, glossy, lustrous leaves that cover the ground so well that one can barely see the soil, is how a garden enthusiast will define it. People confuse it with ginger root plant. However, they are not from the same family, and ginger root leaves aren't as pretty as the foliage. The same name is shared by both the herbs, and so, it is thought to be.
- This plant attains a height no more than ten inches tall with a 6-15 inches plus spread.
- It springs to life in early spring with new cup or heart-shaped leaves emerging from the ground.
- The leaves are basal and about six inches wide with a shiny appearance. They are borne on hairy leaf stems.
- Mostly evergreen, spring also sees flowers from between two leaves that continue to bloom in late spring.
- Flowers are purple brown, with three long, radiant calyx segments.
- They are about an inch wide, mostly hidden by leaves. They grow at ground level to facilitate pollination by ants.
- Two main species favored by gardeners are Canadian and European types.
This plant can be started through seeds as well as its slender rhizome (underground stem). It does very well in zones 4 to 8. It requires full sun, but will also tolerate partial shade. Being a forest species, it needs soil that is moist, well drained, fertile, and rich in organic compost. Soil pH balance must be maintained at 6.1 to 6.5.
They can be grown in the ground as well as in containers. Sow seeds, or grow it by dividing its hairy root stems in spring after frost has passed. It does not require to be planted deep, a depth of couple inches is enough to cover the roots, and spaced at 10-12 inches apart will do just fine.
Watering is not an issue. Water immediately after planting, and continue for a week till it is established. Henceforth, water only when the top soil gets dry. Fertilize in spring with a liquid fertilizer (sparingly). They have no pruning needs, but tend to get invasive. A light prune before spring to induce new growth is all that is recommended for it.
So, be careful when growing them around other shrubs. But they are prone to damage from slugs that are quite capable of wiping out the entire plant. They need to be physically removed. Sometimes, rust-colored spots appear on the underside of leaves.
This form of infection spreads through the underground rhizomes. Remove the infected shrub, a couple of surrounding ones too, and discard. Expose the soil to the sun, and dust it with some germicide before replanting.
Traditionally, this plant has been used as a medicine for treating an array of infections, diseases, and disorders, like conditions related to digestion, breasts, coughs and colds, scarlet fever, nerves, sore throats, cramps, earaches, headaches, convulsions, as a stimulant, etc. Native Americans used the rhizomes as a seasoning.
The leaves can be used fresh or dried as a salve base for treating cuts and bruises. However, concern has been shown over its constituent aristolochic acid, a naturally occurring toxin that can cause fatal consequences. Its most popular use remains that of ground cover.
Though its consumption may be under suspicion, what it can do for a garden in terms of beautifying a stretch is undisputed. However, some latest studies show that parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested, or may cause skin irritation or allergic reaction. Also, some parts are suspected to be cancerous, so, it is not safely recommended for consuming.