by the handful

Nutritious culinary and healing recipes collected from the North American garden, orchard, forest, river and ocean

Wild Ginger Tea

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) has a wild history for several reasons. First of all, although it is not related to the commonly known Asian ginger varieties, it does serve many of the same medicinal and culinary purposes. This plant was used by the peoples of native America as a carminitive. That is, to remedy ailments related to digestion such as gas, bloating, cramps, aches, and pains. Okay, so at one point wild ginger got a reputation for being poisonous. How could a plant used by native Americans forever be toxic? I am going to go off on a bit of a tangent for a bit to make this just a wee bit more interesting and to give some context. Well, let’s talk about cocaine. There is a plant from South America call coca. When ingested (usually the leaves are chewed on like a toothpick) it is about as stimulating as the caffeine in coffee. The peoples of the area it grows in chew on the leaves while they work in the fields all day. The plant gives a little boost in stimulating energy and it is also a habit that keeps one preoccupied during a monotonous day of labor. This plant was used for this and only this purpose by those that originally grew the coca. What happened next is the Western folks found that by hyper focusing the substances in these coca leaves the user would get a lot more than just a little buzz. The result of concentrating the substances in the coca leaves was the manufacture of pure cocaine.

I also recall an herb used in Chinese Medicine called “Ma Huang” which is used by practitioners of Chinese medicine to treat the common cold, headaches, and cough.  This herb was taken off the market in the states and remains illegal to this day because of a rash of strokes. You may remember a substance called Ephedra? This was a concentrated Ma Huang that was used for weight loss by causing the heart to beat rapidly. Yikes, bad idea.

So, this brings us to Wild Ginger and I am sure you know where this is going by now. Wild Ginger contains a substance called Aristolochic acid which can be toxic in enormous doses. Several years back a group of people suffered kidney problems and a few died from taking diet pills that contained Wild Ginger. The Wild Ginger used was actually not the North American plant but a similar species used in Chinese medicine, but that’s really not important. For this substance to have the possibility to do harm you would have to eat pounds of Wild Ginger which is almost impossible and the A. acid is not even water soluble. So, the lesson here is a simple one, don’t abuse nature’s offerings.

Wild Ginger Tea

Gathering – Identifying this plant is fairly easy. Wild Ginger grows in damp forests in loose soils. The roots will usually grow along the ground and can simply be pulled up one at a time. Be sure to just grab a few and not disrupt the plant too much as it will regenerate its roots indefinitely if allowed to do so. It’s best to grab the younger roots and leave the older darker woodier roots. A root that is 6″-10″ in length is a good amount for one cup of tea. After you gather the roots, wash them off and rub away any dirt with the hands. Cut any leaves off and then chop roots into small pieces, the smaller the more surface area.

Preparing – Add the ginger pieces to a small pot and add 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a low simmer. Leave pot uncovered for 20 minutes. There will be no question whether or not you gathered the right plant once your tea is being made as the aroma is very floral, so much so that it honestly surprised me the first time I made tea with Wild Ginger. Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes before serving. Strain and serve. Add a drizzle of honey if desired.

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