Canadian Ginger Asarum canadense Safe to Use As a Spice?
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Rick Moody PhD
Posted on: July 19, 2001

I purchased a plant of Asarum canadense, the Wild canadian variety of ginger now listed on page #27 in your year 2000 catalog as # P2862-300. I purchased this plant several years ago from yourselves, 4 to 5 years or so. It has now spread into a very healthy patch of ginger in my herb garden. Recently I was looking at a book on herbs & it showed a picture of a European species of ginger that looked very similar to my plant. Also the brief description in this book fit my plants except my plant’s leaves have no discernable camphor smell which I gathered from the book was a way to identify the European species. What prompts my writing is that the book cautions that all parts of the European species are toxic. Would you please assure me that the plant you sold me several years ago (4-6 years) is in fact the Canadian nontoxic species.

Our material originates from wild stock from Canadian and American forests where only Asarum canadense grows.

Also I would most appreciate some way you could tell me how to tell the 2 species apart. I took a botany course many years ago & can differentiate leaf types, leaf vein patterns, flower shape & other basic botanical features to some degree. The picture in the book was a hand drawing of the plant but did show a flower near the base of the plant that looked very similar to a flower on one of my plants. I do think that as ginger species will appear very similar that this explains the close similarity of my ginger plants to the European species but I would like to double check this with yourselves before I use the plant’s rhizome root as a ginger spice.

The main difference is the leaves of the European species are evergreen -- meaning they don’t die down every year – while the North American species is deciduous – meaning the leaves die down each winter. The leaves of European species are 2-3 inches across while the leaves of the North American species are 2-7 inches across. The flowers of the European species are greenish-purple to brown and 1/2 inch long. The flowers of the North American species are brownish-purple and one inch across.

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