I previously did a post on Hartweg’s wild ginger (Asarum hartwegii) (see 05-07-14 Hartweg’s Wild Ginger) In May I found another species of wild ginger on the Alder Basin Trail in Del Norte State Redwood Park CA – longtail wild ginger (Asarum caudatum).
A native perennial, longtail wild ginger is a member of the Birthwort Family (Aristolochiaceae). Its range includes Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California and British Columbia. It can be found growing below 5,000 feet in rich bottomlands and moist, shaded forests, often in thick leaf mould that partly hides the flowers.
The extensive rhizomal longtail wild ginger root system often encourages the formation of large plant mats. The perennial leaves occur two per node and are heart to kidney shaped and shiny with a long petiole (stalk). The leaf stalks and leaf veins are finely hairy.
The purplish brown to greenish yellow longtail wild ginger flowers are strange looking. Each leaf axil has one solitary, bell-shaped flower. The flowers have no petals, instead three sepals that taper out to long, slender tips form the corolla. There are 12 stamens. The flowers are usually concealed by the leaves, which must be pushed aside to find the flowers.
Longtail wild ginger fruits are fleshy capsules each containing many seeds.
The entire plant, when crushed, has a strong lemon ginger odor. The roots can be eaten fresh or dried. Early settlers ground the dried roots as a substitute for the ginger, obtained from a tropical plant, with which we are familiar.
Longtail wild ginger has known antibiotic properties. Native Americans used the plant in various ways to treat stomach pains, tuberculosis, arthritis, knee pain and headaches.
The word ginger dates back to the 13th Century. Ginger means “root with a horn shape” and is generally applied to plants with this general flavor or smell. The genus, Asarum, is the Greek name for the genus and was used by Dioscorides (physician/approximately 40 to 90 AD). The species designation means “with a tail”. Another common name for A caudatum is creeping wild ginger.