ASARUM CAUDATUM: Wild Ginger
The question comes up periodically: “Can you use the native wild ginger like culinary ginger?”
Well, while the leathery leaves when crushed emit a lovely lemon-ginger scent, and it is said that the rhizomes taste a bit like the Asian Ginger to which it is in no way related, care should still be taken with thorough research, before experimenting yourself.
But we’re not sure it’s worth the bother: Our native ginger is one of our most beautiful woodland groundcovers, and we think it’s best enjoyed for its mostly evergreen carpet of deep green heart-shaped (fragrant!) leaves, not to mention the unusual, other-worldly purplish-brown cupped flowers with long mousy tails extending from the three flower lobes, that hide and peek out from the foliage.
A. caudatum spreads by rhizomes that travel on the surface of the ground or just slightly beneath. It is therefore fairly easy to propagate from pieces of the rhizome. Also, like our native Trillium, it is said that there is a substance in the capsuled fruit of A. caudatum that is attractive to ants, which carry away the fruit back to their homes, thereby becoming the main natural propagator of this plant!
Wild ginger grows natively in moist, shady woodlands, with lots of acidic humus from the litter of fallen conifer needles. Supplying a similar condition will make your plant happy to settle in and spread by those thick rhizomes to eventually make a luxurious carpet in your woodland garden. It is relatively low-maintenance, the exception being our garden nemesis: slugs. It is said that if slugs become a problem an application of a non-toxic iron-sulfate product like Sluggo will take care of the problem while keeping your garden safe for other wildlife and pets.
While A. caudatum is by far the most common native species of wild ginger, there is a second worth mentioning: A. marmoratum is a beautiful but fairly obscure species that is found in Oregon in only a small portion of the far southwest corner of the state in the Siskiyou Mountains. It is similar in all ways to A. caudatum, but with striking silver markings on the leaves. I have never seen it available locally. If you’re interested in this something of a native collector’s item, visit Pacific Rim Nursery’s website
Species: caudatum, marmoratum
Common Name: Wild Ginger
Native Range: Commonly found in moist woodlands from the Cascades west to the Pacific Coast (A. caudatum), in the far southwest corner of Oregon, in the Siskiyou mountains (A. marmoratum)
Characteristics: Mostly evergreen, low growing groundcover, spreading by underground rhizomes; leaves are heart-shaped, dark green and leathery; flowers are thimble-shaped, maroon to brown in color, often nestled in amongst the foliage, with thin “tails” extending away from the blossom like rays.
Culture: Grows best in moist, shady locations with acidic soil rich in organic matter (natively most often found in locations with fallen conifer needles)
Pests/Diseases: Slugs can be a problem for A. caudatum in the garden.