Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) is a member of the birthwort family. It prefers moist, well-drained soil and is usually found in shady, wooded areas. The leaves are large… from three to six inches across… and are thick and fuzzy and have prominent veins. Leaves are heart-shaped and grow on long stalks that start at the base of the plant. Usually the top of the leaf is a deep green and the underside is a somewhat lighter color, but leaf color can vary depending on soil and growing conditions.
There will be one flower per plant, right at the very bottom of where two of the long leaf stalks join. The flowers are cup shaped with three pointed lobes and twelve stamens and are a vivid red color with dark purple and cream markings. Because the flowers are so close to the ground, they are pollinated by crawling insects like beetles and ants. Small “fruits” form by early summer.
Wild ginger flowers are easy to miss unless you know where to look for them. Often the flowers are practically lying on the ground and may be almost covered with last autumn’s fallen leaves… but they’re worth searching for because they are really quite beautiful.
Wild ginger is very easy to grow. It needs humus-rich soil and likes moisture, but good drainage is a must. It spreads through its roots, and a single plant will quickly become a dense mound.
Note: Wild ginger smells like the real ginger, but it should NEVER be eaten. Although history tells us that it was once used for various medicinal purposes, it has caused kidney failure and death. Also, parts of the plant contain aristolochic acid, a substance that scientists currently believe could be carcinogenic.