Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Canadian Wild Ginger

We have this patch of tiny, heart-shaped leaf plants that emerge ever spring under our pines. If you look real closely, you can see a funky shaped flower near the base of the plant. It's Canadian Wild Ginger and in addition to being an oddly attractive plant, it's also the larval host for the Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly (which is rarely seen in these northern parts).

When the plants emerge, it's this clustering of upright, green velvety leaves poking through the pine needles. They're beautiful on dewy mornings.

Wild Ginger should not be confused with edible ginger, even though the roots have a similar smell - they're not even in the same family. While it's been an herbal remedy for years, Wild Ginger contains a toxic acid (Aristolochic) that causes kidney failure and cancer. Unfortunately, since the plant was cited by Native Americans, Chinese healers and people in the Balkan region for everything from treating burns to using as a contraceptive, many people still use the plant in traditional medicine. In fact, just yesterday the FDA issued a stronger warning to discontinue all use of any botanical products containing Aristolochic acid.

Apparently the root can be carefully harvested and dried, then burned as an insect repellent, but I think I'll just enjoy it as a unique plant in my garden.

1 comment:

  1. Hi CabinGirl,

    We need to make a sharp distinction between aristolochic acid and wild ginger. The latter may contain the former, but it doesn't follow that all warnings issued about aristolochic acid are equally true of wild ginger. (For example, quantity is an issue, and so is the method of consumption.)

    As it happens, the wild gingers of North America are perfectly safe to use in seasoning quantities. And when infused in tea, they are virtually free of aristolochic acid.

    An excellent summary of the origins of this scare and a scientific analysis of risk can be found here:

    Just spreadin' the word ;-)

    Thanks for the post!

    Rusty Ring: Reflections of an Old-Timey Hermit