Wild Ginger

Asarum canadense Aristolochiaceae

Growth habit




Native distribution

Native to the Finger Lakes Region


Typically grown as a 4-6" tall foliage groundcover.
Light: Shade
Soil: Medium moisture, rich


Seed Treatment and Storage: Do not let seeds dry out. Requires warm/moist then cold/moist stratification; germinates on second warm spell but may take up to two years.

Biocultural value

Candied wild ginger rhizomes can serve as a passable substitute for true ginger, although they should probably only be consumed in moderate quantities. Fernald and Kinsey (1958) wryly noted that "inordinate eating of it might be detrimental, a point which those who are sufficiently inquisitive might well determine." The plant was used by multiple Native American groups including the Haudenosaunee, Cherokee, Chippewa, and Algonquin. Rhizomes were employed medicinally as an anticonvulsive, cold remedy, disinfectant, and digestive aid.

The statements above were sourced from:

Native American Ethnobotany Database: http://naeb.BRIT Native American Ethnobotany Database.org

Fernald, Merritt Lyndon, and Alfred Charles Kinsey Kinsey. 1958. Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Harper and Row.

Wildlife value

Wild ginger's low-lying purplish brown flowers are self-pollinated and the plant also reproduces asexually via rhizomes (Wildman 1950). The pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor) and bold-feathered grass moth (Herpetogramma pertextalis) use wild ginger as a caterpillar host plant. Aphaenogaster rudis ants disperse the seeds in return for the lipid-rich structure (elaiosome) on the outside. However, invasive slugs have been shown to remove elaiosomes without dispersing the seed, thus "robbing" the native ants of their food and curtailing wild ginger propagation (Dunphy et. al. 2001). Mammalian herbivores avoid the mildly toxic leaves.

The statements above were sourced from:
Wildman, Harvey E. "Pollination of Asarum Canadense L." Science 111, no. 2890 (1950): 551. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1676584.

Dunphy, Shannon A. Meadley, Kirsten M. Prior, and Megan E. Frederickson. 2016. “An Invasive Slug Exploits an Ant-Seed Dispersal Mutualism.” Oecologia 181 (1):149–59. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-015-3530-0.

Climate change sensitivity

Over the period from 1986 to 2015, Asarum canadense bloomed an average of 12.2 days earlier.


Mundy Wildflower Garden, Coy Glen, Edwards Lake Cliffs Preserve, Fischer Old-growth Forest, McLean Bogs, Ringwood Ponds, Tarr-Young Preserve

Special characteristics

The fragrance of the roots and leaves is similar to culinary ginger but does not survive cooking. Ants distribute the seeds in exchange for a fatty appendage (elaiosome) on the outside of the seed.