Asarum canadense L.

Last updated: 01 Oct 2015

Scientific Name

Asarum canadense L. 


Asarum acuminatum (Ashe) E.P.Bicknell, Asarum ambiguum (E.P.Bicknell) Daniels, Asarum carolinianum Walter, Asarum furcatum Raf., Asarum latifolium Salisb., Asarum medium Raf., Asarum parvifolium Raf., Asarum reflexum E.P.Bicknell, Asarum rubrocinctum Peattie, Asarum villosum Muhl. ex Duch., Asarum ypsilantennse Walpole. [1]

Vernacular Name

English Canada snakeroot, Canadian snakeroot oil, Canadian wild ginger, colic root, Indian ginger, Vermont snakeroot, wild ginger, wild ginger oil [2]
France Asaret du Canada, gingmbre sauvage [2]

Geographical Distributions

This plant is found in rich woods, usually in colonies from New Brunswick and Quebec to Ontario and Minnesota, south to North Carolina, northern Alabama, and northern Louisiana. [3]

Botanical Description

A. canadense falls under the Birthwort Family (Aristolochiaceae). Although not related to Zingiber officinale, the roots of this plant were used in by early Americans as a ginger substitute. [4]

This herbaceous perennial is hairy, especially the petioles and calyx. [3]

The leaves are cordate-rotund to cordatereniform, mostly 8-12 cm wide at anthesis, and larger at maturity. [3]

The solitary, red-brown flowers are 2-4 cm. They are short peduncled, arising between the pair of leaves. [3]

The fruit is capsular, opening irregularly. The seeds are large, ovoid, and wrinkled. The rhizome produces annually a pair of petiolate, broad, hairy leaves and these are deciduous at the end of the season. [3]


This plant is easily grown in average, medium to wet, well-drained soil, in part shade to full shade. They preferred constantly moist, acidic soils in heavy shade and spreads slowly by rhizomes to form an attractive ground cover for shade areas. [4]

Propagation by seeds: This plant is somewhat difficult to start from seed and much easier by division. Gather the mealy fruits when they first begin to split. Clean the seeds, washing off all of the pulp that might inhibit germination and sow them outdoors immediately. They should be planted in a shaded seedbed and well watered throughout the summer for good germination the following spring. Note that the seeds of Canadian wild ginger, if stored before planting, should not be kept dry. They should be placed in sealed plastic bags at 40° F and in slightly moist vermiculite. Seeds can also be sown in plugs and transferred several times to larger pots. They should be place in a greenhouse for three months and then moved to a cold frame for three months before planting out in the garden. [3]

Propagation by division: Divide mature plants in early autumn when they start to go dormant. With the appropriate garden tool, cut through the rhizome at intervals of 6-8 inches. Another method is to leave the parent plant in place and divide sections from the edges of the clump. Replant the new divisions right away and water them thoroughly. [3]

Chemical Constituent

A. canadense has been reported to contain methyl eugenol, (E)-isoelemicin, hydrocarbon monoterpenes, (Z)-3-hexenol, trans-pinocarveol, (Z)-isoelemicin, oplopanone. Other chemical includes, methyleugenol, linalyl acetate, geraniol, linalool, limonene, a-terpineol, bornyl acetate, aristolone, elemicin, 2,3,4, 5-tetramethoxyallylbenzene, 2, 4-dimethoxycinnamaldehyde. [5]

Plant Part Used

Root [6], rhizomes [7][8] and leaves [8].

Traditional Use

A. canadense has been used by several Native American tribes for a variety of conditions including gastrointestinal complaints, colds and fevers or dermatological ailments [6]. In Indian tribes, the Rappahannocks steeped the leaves to reduce fever in typhoid. [8]

Tribes such as the Iroquois, Chippewa and Cherokee each used either a decoction, infusion or the raw root of A. canadense to treat digestive discomfort [6]. In cases of gas and flatulence, Native American medical practitioners have used the herb, typically the rhizome, as a carminative [7]. In addition to treating various kinds of digestive disorders, the rhizome has been used to both season and improve the edibility of meats and fish [9]. In Indian tribes, the Ojibwa, used a warm poultice of wild ginger and spikenard, covered with cloth and bound with fitted cedar splints for the treatment of fractured arm. Decoction of boiled root and rhizomes were used for an oral contraceptive. [8]

In cases of inflamed bowels, kidneys, liver, and spleen, the rhizomes of A. canadense was used as a diaphoretic, which was thought to bring relief from the symptoms of these ailments [8]. For treatment of colds, flues and fevers, Native American tribes believed that A. canadense made a particularly effective febrifuge [7]. The Iroquois, for example, had several different applications and uses of the plant for treating upper respiratory infections [6]. In colds, it was believed that A. canadense was not only useful as a diaphoretic, but also as a stimulant to the immune system [7].

A. canadense has also been used by some Native American tribes to treat gynecological disorders.  Typically infusions of the seed or rhizome were used to ease menstrual discomfort, or to initiate menstruation in women with irregular periods. [6]

Preclinical Data


Antibacterial activity

A. canadense was among the plant tested in a study for antimicrobial activity. Ten grams of leaves and stems of A. canadense were cut into 2.5 cm pieces and combined with 10 ml of 80:20 aqueous ethanolic solvent. The extract was screened for antimicrobial activity using the disk diffusion technique. The microorganisms used for testing were S. aureus, E. coli, P. aeruginosa and C. albicans. Among 4 of the microorganism tested, A. canadense only inhibit the growth of S. aureus with 15 mm zones of inhibition. [11]


No documentation

Clinical Data

Clinical findings

No documentation


Assarum spp have been identified by the FDA to contain aristolochic acid which is a nephrotoxin compound and potential carcinogen. FDA had released a public advisory warning the public that botanicals containing Aristolochia, Bragantia, or Asarum may contain aristolochic acid (AA). FDA concerned was based on reports of serious health problems resulting from an inappropriate use of Chinese herbs containing AA in a Belgian diet clinic and two cases of nephropathy. [12]

Side effects

No documentation


No documentation

Poisonous Management

No documentation

Line drawing

No documentation


  1. The Plant List. Ver1.1. Asarum canadense L. [homepage on the Internet]. c2013 [updated 2012 Mar 23; cited 2015 Oct 01]. Available from:
  2. Quattrocchi U. CRC world dictionary of medicinal and poisonous plants: Common names, scientific names, eponyms, synonyms and etymology. Volume I A-B. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, 201; p. 433.
  3. USDA NRCS. Plant database: Asarum canadense L. Canadian wildginger. [homepage on the Internet]. c2015 [updated 2000 Dec 5; cited 2015 Nov 23]. Available from:
  4. Missouri Botanical Garden. Asarum canadense. [homepage on the Internet]. c2015. [cited 2015 Nov 23]. Available from:
  5. Bauer L, Bell CL, Gearien JE, Takeda H. Constituents of the rhizome of Asarum canadense. J Pharm Sci. 1967;56(3):336-343.
  6. Moerman DE. Native American ethnobotany. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press; 2009.
  7. Hutchens A. Indian herbalogy of North America. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambala; 1991.
  8. Dawson AG. Herbs: Partners in life: Healing, gardening, and cooking with wild plants. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press, 2000; p. 59-60.
  9. Sumner J. American Household Botany: A History of Useful Plants 1620-1900: Portland, Oregon: Timber Press; 2004.
  10. Austin DF. Florida Ethnobotany. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, 2004; p. 117.
  11. Borchardt JR, Wyse DL, Sheaffer CC, et al. Antimicrobial activity of native and naturalized plants of Minnesota and Wisconsin. J Med Plant Res. 2008;2(5):98-110.
  12. McMillin DL, Nelson CD, Richards DG, Mein EA. Determination of Aristolochic Acid in Asarum canadense (Wild Ginger) [document on the Internet]. Meridian Institute; 2003. [cited 2016 Mar 17]. Available from: