Asarum canadense, commonly known as Canada wild ginger, Canadian snakeroot, and broad-leaved asarabacca, is a herbaceous, perennial plant which forms dense colonies in the understory of deciduous forest throughout its native range in eastern North America, from the Great Plains east to the Atlantic Coast, and from southeastern Canada south to around the Fall Line in the southeastern United States.
Its leaves are kidney-shaped and persistent. Underground shoots are shallow-growing, fleshy rhizomes that branch to form a clump. The flowers bloom from April through June, are hairy, and have three sepals, tan to purple on the outside and lighter inside, with tapered tips and bases fused into a cup.
The plant contains aristolochic acid, a carcinogenic compound. The United States Food and Drug Administration warns that consumption of aristolochic acid-containing products is associated with "permanent kidney damage, sometimes resulting in kidney failure that has required kidney dialysis or kidney transplantation. In addition, some patients have developed certain types of cancers, most often occurring in the urinary tract."
The long rhizomes of A. canadense were used by Native Americans as a seasoning. It has similar aromatic properties to true ginger (Zingiber officinale), but should not be used as a substitute because it contains an unknown concentration of the carcinogen aristolochic acid and asarone. The distillate from the ground root is known as Canadian snakeroot oil. The odor and flavor are spicy. It has been used in many flavor preparations.
Native Americans used the plant as a medicinal herb to treat a number of ailments including dysentery, digestive problems, swollen breasts, coughs and colds, typhus, scarlet fever, nerves, sore throats, cramps, heaves, earaches, headaches, convulsions, asthma, tuberculosis, urinary disorders, and venereal disease. In addition, they also used it as a stimulant or appetite enhancer, and as a charm. It was also used as an admixture to strengthen other herbal preparations.
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