- European Wild Ginger
- Wild Spikenard
Asarum (scientific name Asarum europaeum) is a perennial plant which grows round the year (evergreen). This herb usually grows up to a height of anything between 0.1 meter and 0.5 meter. The stem of this herb is plump with two deep green hued evergreen leaves each. The leaves are kidney shaped and glossy on the surface with light yellow veins. The leaves of asarum have a peppery flavour and smell.
This herb bears purplish-green, bell-shaped flowers that are concealed below the kidney-shaped leaves. Each stem only bears one flower at its tip or terminal either towards the end of winter or during spring. The color of the flowers is brownish near their base, while the central part is purple-hued. The Asarum flower tube comprises merged tepals and each tube has three projections resembling petals. In all, each flower has 12 stamens.
Asarum stems comprise a stalk as well as reniform that measures roughly 10 cm in width and anything between 10 cm and 15 cm in length. The plant’s root is ash-hued and an ash-colored powder is obtained from it.
Precisely speaking, this herb is one of the many species belonging to wild ginger bearing a solitary axillary dull purple-hued flower. Asarum is always in a prostrate position on the ground. However, asarum is not related to the rhizome ginger, which is a very familiar spice.
This species is prevalent throughout Europe, ranging from the southern part of Finland and northern regions of Russia to southern Italy, southern France and the Republic of Macedonia. Aside from these regions, asarum is also extensively cultivated as an ornamental plant in places other than its native region. Occasionally, this herb is also harvested for use in the form of a flavoring or spice.
The flowers of Asarum europaeum are hermaphroditic in nature. In other words, all the flowers of this species have the male as well as female reproductive organs. In normal circumstances, the flowers are not noticeable, as they bloom just on the ground and also remain concealed under the dense foliage of the plant. These flowers are usually pollinated by flies. The asarum root has a gentle ginger-like scent.
Since long, people have been using asarum for therapeutic purpose. According to some available documents, the use of this medicinal herb actually dates back to the ancient Greeks. During the Middle Ages, Asarum europaeum was used for its laxative, diuretic and emetic properties.
In fact, asarum was the primary herbal remedy for poisoning due to food and mushrooms till ipecacuanha (scientific name Cephaelis Ipecacuanha) was introduced in the 1600s in Europe. Ipecacuanha is native to South America and possesses similar emetic properties as asarum, but it has fewer and less harmful side effects. On the other hand, asarum is highly toxic and, hence, it’s used did more harm than good to people.
Earlier, Asarum europaeum was used for treating rhinitis, a condition wherein the mucous membrane in the interior of the nose becomes inflamed and irritated. In addition, this herb was also employed for treating conditions like angina pectoris, pneumonia, liver ailments, migraine and jaundice. Asarum was also used for curing dehydration as well as to induce abortion and menstruation.
Once, people used the dried and powdered leaves of this herb as a constituent of some kind of a sneezing powder to promote expulsion of mucus congested inside the respiratory tract. Sniffing a small amount of this sneezing powder through the nostrils promoted fierce sneezing and profuse outflow of mucus from the respiratory system.
This action of the herb made people use it for treating headaches, giddiness, catarrhs, drowsiness as well as a number of other conditions attributed to congestion of mucus in the respiratory tract. Aside from sneezing powder, asarum has also been used as an ingredient of several popular and widely used commercially available remedial snuffs.
In present times, asarum is only used in consistent form for treating a number of health conditions including asthma, bronchitis, cough due to smoking, laryngitis and silicosis. Plants found in China as well as some other countries enclose ingredients like aristolochic acid and asarone, which are same as those contained by asarum and they are still used in traditional herbal and other medicines.
Asarum is also used for treating various types of eye problems. In addition, this herb also aids to comfort the brain when there is any disorder. This herb is also used for treating toothache, besides curing paralysis of the mouth and tongue.
Blended with ribwort, Asarum europaeum is also effective in getting rid of mucous congestion in the respiratory tract, thereby providing relief in several disorders including cough, headaches and catarrhs. This herb is also employed in making cephalic substances that induce sneezing and alleviate headaches.
Another use of asarum is in the treatment of lesions in the digestive tract. In many cases, this herb is used as a substitute for ipecac to induce vomiting.
The taste as well as smell of Asarum europaeum is potently peppery. This herb is also used for treating conditions related to the eyes, throat, mouth and even the brain. The essential oil present in the root of this herb encloses 50 percent asarone, which is about 65% more noxious compared to peppermint oil.
Asarum root essential oil possesses potent emetic properties and is highly valued in treating laryngeal catarrh, dry pharyngeal catarrh, silicosis and various other conditions related to the respiratory system.
Habitat and cultivation
Asarum europaeum is perhaps one of the best groundcover plants, especially for growing in shaded locations. Hence, it is not surprising that plants of this species are in high demand by gardeners. As a result, there is always a dearth in good supply of these plants.
Soon after the first lot of asarum is planted, they gradually develop into a condensed patch of shiny, deep green smoothed leaves that continue to be evergreen even in places where winter conditions are relatively mild. The brownish blooms borne by this species are inconsequential, as they remain concealed under the thick foliage.
It is advisable that you plant asarum in small areas, as it takes some years for these plants to establish themselves. After they have established, asarum plants begin to self-seed in moderation. This species grows well alongside primroses, miniature hosta as well as low-growing ferns.
Chemical analysis of the asarum (Asarum europaeum) rootstock has revealed that it encloses several valuable compounds including starch, resins, flavonoinds, tannins, and aristolochic acid. In addition, about 4 percent of the rootstock is composed of essential oil. Even the essential oil of the rootstock encloses various different substances mainly asarone (30 percent), bornyl acetate (15 percent) and methyl eugenol (20 percent).
Side effects and cautions
Consuming the asarum plant may result in a number of undesirable and painful side effects including a burning sensation in the mouth, vomiting, heartburn, diarrhea, acute pain in the abdomen and also inflammation of the kidneys.
The essential oil found in asarum rootstock is extremely poisonous and has the potential to damage the kidneys as well as result in the failure of the respiratory system. This essential oil is highly corrosive for the mucus membranes. In addition, its use can cause skin irritation and even form blisters on the skin.
Handling this plant with bare hands may cause skin irritation. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that you not only wear gloves while dealing with this herb or any part of this plant, but also wash your hands thoroughly soon after you hold or come in contact with Asarum europaeum.
Collection and harvesting
Usually, the aerial parts of asarum are harvested during the period between May and June. On the other hand, the rootstock of asarum is collected in August. All parts of this herb need to be dried in the air in a shaded location. The dried parts of the herb are later pulverized into its powdered form, which has a bitter flavour.