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Wild ginger is a plant native to North American and Australia that has been used medicinally for digestive problems, colds, and infections. The plant, also known as asarum, is also used in the production of perfumes and some insect repellents. Wild or Indian ginger is not related to the ginger root species known as Zingiber officinale that is native to parts of Asia, but when European settlers discovered the plant it was named after ginger root because of its similarities in taste.
Asarum caudatum, or wild ginger, is a perennial usually found growing in shaded, wooded areas with moist, rich soil in North America. Alpinia caerulea is a variety of the plant found in Australia, and asiasarum sieboldi is native to parts of Asia, Europe, and North America. The plant grows to be no more than 12 inches (30.5 cm) tall, and has kidney-shaped leaves attached to hairy stems. Ginger plants bloom small flowers that can be green, brown, or a purple color, and are very fragrant. The root of the plant grows close to the surface and can usually be seen, and it is this part of the plant that is harvested for use.
Wild ginger is most commonly used to soothe an upset stomach or to ease a person’s nausea or vomiting. Women experiencing morning sickness, those who are affected by motion sickness, and people experiencing vertigo can benefit from the nausea controlling properties of ginger. It is sometimes used as a diuretic to relive constipation. Wild ginger should not be taken for an extended period of time, and most products will recommend a daily intake of one to three grams.
Ginger is also used to treat colds and chest congestion. The plant induces sweating, increases circulation, and stimulates the immune system. Those with a flu or cold that causes soreness and joint pains may also benefit from the anti-inflammatory qualities of wild ginger. The root has also been used on the surface of the skin to treat infection and inflammation of sores or cuts, and it can be chewed to reduce pain from dental procedures.
Commercially, wild ginger is used in perfumes because of its spicy aroma. Some burn wild ginger to ward away insects. A few varieties of wild ginger contain a toxic material known as aristolochic acid that has been shown to cause cell mutation, cancer, and inflammation of the skin, so care should be taken harvesting wild ginger.
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