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Herbal Monograph

Herb:  Wild Ginger Root  (Asarum canadensis; Aristolochiaceae)

Other Names:  Asarabacca, hazelwort, wild nard, snakeroot, Public House Plant, coltsfoot, false coltsfoot (of Asarum europaeum)  (2);  

Canada Snakeroot, Indian Ginger, Coltsfoot   (34)

Character/Energetics:  spicy, bitter, warm    (6) 

Meridians/Organs/ Body Parts affected:     liver, heart, lungs   (6)

Part(s) used: the whole plant  (6)   rhizome dried and roots (?)        

Identification & Harvesting:    Asarum europaeum is a perennial, 2″-4″ high, shaggy-haired plant with a thin, creeping, branched, stippled rhizome.  Has an ascending short-scaled stem with a terminal flower at the tip.  2-4 long-stemmed, opposite, broad leaves which are margined, leathery, dark green glossy above, pale and matte beneath, and evergreen.  End of stem forms a short-stemmed, slightly hanging flower.  Fruit is a capsule with numerous, boat-shaped seeds.  Rhizome has a pepper-like smell, and leaves and flowers have an unpleasant camphor smell.  Asarum europaeum is a protected species, but is also cultivated in the US.  Gather roots in August and air-dry in shade.  Easily confused with other valerian types and with Arnica montana, Genum urbanum, and Viola ordorata (sp?)  The mistaken powder can be identified by the presence of fibers, stone cells, oxalate filament agglomerations, and the absence of starch.    (2)

Habitat: North America, North Carolina, Kansas  

An inconspicuous but fragrant little plant, not over 12 inches high, found growing in rich soil on roadsides and in woods.  A stemless perennial, much resembling the European Asarum, but with larger leaves, provided with a short spine, leaves usually only two, kidney-shaped, borne of thin fine hairy stems, dark above and paler green under-surface, 

4 to 8 inches broad, strongly veined. A solitary bell-shaped flower, dull brown or brownish purple, drooping between the two leaf stems, woolly, the inside darker than the outside and of a satiny texture, the fruit a leathery six-celled capsule. It has a yellowish creeping rootstock, slightly jointed, with thin rootlets from the joints. In commerce the rootstock is found in pieces 4 to 5 inches long,  1/8 inch thick, irregular quadrangular, brownish end wrinkled outside, whitish inside, showing a large centre pith hard and brittle, breaking with a short fracture. Odour fragrant, taste aromatic, spicy and slightly bitter–it is collected in the autumn.   (34)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Active Constituents:    Of Asarum europaeum — volatile oils, whose composition depends greatly upon breed:  chiefly asarone, trans-isoasarone, trans-isoeugenol methyl ether, trans-isoelemicin or eudesmol;  also sesquiterpene hydrocarbons, -alcohols, -furans, and -carbonyl compounds.  Caffeic acid derivatives incl. chlorogenic acid, isochlorogenic acid.  Flavonoids.    (2)

Essential oil including asarone, acids, tannin, flavonoids and  resin   (6)                              

                        A volatile oil once largely used in perfumery, also resin, a bitter   principle called asarin, mucilage, alkaloid, sugar and a substance  like camphor. The plant yields its properties to alcohol and hot water.   (34)

Actions:   Asarum europaeum — expectorant, bronchial spasmolytic, superficial relaxant, local anesthetic, emetic (induces vomiting), antibacterial.  Active emetic, spasmolytic, anesthetic principle is trans-isoasarone.    (2)

Emmenagogue, stimulant, diuretic, carminative, diaphoretic. The Chinese variety is classified as a stimulating diaphoretic  (6)

stimulant, carminative, diuretic, diaphoretic.  (34)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Conditions & Uses:     Anesthetic effect of active principles in Asarum europaeum compared with benzocaine (anesthetic index = 1):  A=.72 for trans-isoasarone and A=.47 for trans-isomethyleugenol.  A demonstrated 80% improvement rate in patients with acute bronchitis, 68% improvement rate in patients with bronchial asthma.  Used for inflammatory conditions of the lower respiratory system (acute and chronic bronchitis), for bronchial spasms and asthma.  Folk uses include cough remedy, sneezing-powder, eye inflammations, pneumonia, angina pectoris, migraines, liver disease and jaundice, dehydration, emmenagogue, artificial abortion.  Efficacy of these indications is not adequately proven. (2)

Wild Ginger promotes menses, stimulates the circulation of blood and chi, opens the meridians, aids digestion, and counteracts and eliminates gas. It also is used as a stimuIating diaphoretic to promote perspiration for the treatment of colds, coughs and flu. The Pomo Indian women of California used to drink it each month the week before their period was due to regulate childbirth. The Chinese use their variety as a primary herb for headaches, facial nerve pain and sinus congestion.    (6)

Used in chronic chest complaints, dropsy with albuminaria, painful spasms of bowels and stomach.   (34)                  


Precautions:  Older literature reports signs of poisoning (burning of the tongue, gastroenteritis, diarrhea, skin rash)    (2)

Tincturing Process:



Dosage:  2-5 gms.   (6)

    1/2  oz. of the powdered root in 1 pint of boiling water, taken hot, produces         copious perspiration.

    Dry powder, 20 to 30 grains.

    As an adjuvant to tonic mixtures or infusions, 1/2 to 1 drachm.  (34)                                                                                                                          

General Notes:  Other species–Asarum Europaeum (Syn. Hazelwort; Wild Nard, very similar in properties to above). Part used: root and leaves dried. See reference for medicinal action and uses , dosage, etc. (34)



(2)  PDR for Herbal Medicines (Medical Economics Co., 1998), pgs. 670-71

(6) Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pg. 280

(34) A Modern Herbal (Vol. 1 A-H) by Mrs. M. Grieve,  pg. 354


PHOTO: Wikipedia