CALABOGIE HIKER: Wild Ginger, Edible (Spring Walk Series)

BLOG 10: With the invention of the internet and smartphones we have very quickly become a global community. The ingenious iPhone is only 9 years old and celebrating it's 10th birthday this month. I know! Today, people can search and learn about any topic they desire. Maybe now you can appreciate why I always find it so interesting when I learn about ancient peoples living on different sides of the earth and using the same ancient plant species in the same way! People who had no contact with each other or any modern scientific knowledge of the plant chemistry. Wild Ginger is one of those plants found around the world and used the same way since forever. In many cases with herbology I find that science comes into the picture with either sceptics trying to prove a placebo or hero's striving to scientifically validate what ancient peoples already knew. It's just very cool that different types of ginger on different sides of the earth are used in the same way before travel and the spread of knowledge began. First Nation peoples highly valued the root tea for indigestion, coughs, sore throat, colds, flu, fever, nervous conditions, cramps, to relieve gas and promote sweating. Canadian Wild Ginger {Asarum canadense} is easy to detect because when you pull out a root and break it, it is wonderfully fragrant and smells similar to commercial ginger {Zingiber officinale}. If you tear a leaf, it too smells faintly of ginger. To find this velvety plant look for two leaves coming directly out of the soil with one purple prehistoric-looking flower with three petals. The leaves are distinctly heart shaped and low to the ground at about 4-8 inches high. Wild ginger covers the forest floor like a velvet carpet and creates a dense network of rootstock just slightly below the surface. It prefers dampness and dark shady forests. It is always a great find for foragers. Boutenko insists the whole plant is edible and very safe to eat with the leaves, flowers and the roots having a bitter spicy taste and a fragrant smell. Health Canada cautions us when ingesting anything with aristolochic acid, a known toxin found in Wild Ginger and other plants. The rule is always to use wild plants wisely and in moderation. Wild Ginger is not recommended in a concentrated form. Wild Ginger, also known as Canadian Snakeroot, has a long history of uses with First Nations peoples and early settlers. When you harvest Wild Ginger the rootstock can be used to make candy, tea or used for seasoning savoury dishes. To make candy one boils the rootstock until tender and then simmer in rich sugar water till it forms a syrup. Roll it in sugar and serve with ice cream or toss in a fruit salad. Dried rootstock can be used as a substitute for commercial ginger in any given recipe. It is a lighter flavour but still distinctly gingery. Wild Ginger, although not from the same family of plants as commercial ginger, has been used traditionally in in the same medicinal way. It, too, is a great remedy for stomach upset, painful spasms of the bowels and nausea. It too, has antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties. Wild Ginger can stimulate sweating and can be used in a cleansing tonic formula. Mrs. Grieves mentions Wild Ginger was used extensively in the past in the perfume industry for use of its fragrant volatile oil. She also mentions past medicinal uses of Wild Ginger for chronic chest complaints and advises that 'medicinally' Wild Ginger shouldn't be boiled like it is for candy but instead tinctured in alcohol and used sparingly by the drop.

(Photo by Colleen Hulett in the Gatineau Highlands)

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