I first met Wild Ginger (Asaraum caudatum) in the woods near Vernonia, Oregon, several years ago. I was captivated by the fragrance; though it’s not related to the tropical ginger we northerners know only from the grocery store, the fragrance of the leaves and rhizomes is identical. Imagine my delight to come across it in the woods on my daily walk. It’s a fascinating plant.
Here’s a nice look at one of the leaves; it looks almost sparkly from a dusting of maple tree pollen. They have a wonderful color, this light fresh green when they’re young, darkening to a richer, darker green.
The flowers are dark purplish brown, and hide at the base of the plant; if my guidebook hadn’t told me they were there, I might not have noticed them that first time. They lay on the ground; it’s hard to get a look at the inside.
A little, bristly, bulbous cup with petals that stretch out like insect feelers, it looks almost alien, or like it should be a the bottom of the ocean instead of in the woods.
Medicinally, it is similar to the aforementioned tropical ginger. I won’t harvest any of it though. Wild ginger grows in habitats that are rapidly disappearing, and is vital to the ecology of the forest floor. Its rhizomes provide much needed aeration for soil that is easily compacted. I just love seeing it, smelling it.
Especially that wonderful little mandala in the middle.
Getting a look at it usually involves crouching or kneeling on the damp forest floor, getting my knees muddy. I always get the weirdest looks from other hikers when they come upon me in the dead leaves at the edge of the trail, bent over a plant. Especially if I’m not paying attention, and they catch me talking to the plant. But I suppose this could be a good thing; if they think I’m crazy, they aren’t likely to bother me. I don’t mind being the crazy lady in the woods; she’s always the most interesting character in the story anyway.