No. 12. Asarum canadense.
English Name—BROADLEAF ASARABACCA
French Name—Asaret du Canada.
German Name—Canadische Haselwurz.
Officinal Names—Asari Canadensis, radix and herba.
Vulgar Names—Wild Ginger, Indian Ginger, Canada Snakeroot, Heart Snakeroot, Coltsfoot, &c.
Authorities—Linnaeus, Schoepf, Michaux, Pursh, Cornut, Coxe, Dispensaries, B. Barton, W. Barton, fig 32, Bigelow fig. 15 and Sequel.
Synonyms—A. latifolium of Salisbury. A. carolinianum of Walter.
Genus ASARUM—Perigone urceolate trifid. Stamina twelve epigynous, anthers adnate. Germ coalescent with the base of the perigone, style short, stigma stellated six parted. Capsul six locular, many seeded.—Stemless, leaves radical geminate, flowers solitary in the bifurcation.
Species A. Canadense—Leaves broad, reniform, entire, puberulent: flower woolly, tripartite, segments lanceolate reflexed.
Description—Roots perennial, creeping, fleshy, cylindric, jointed, with scattered fibres, brown outside, white inside—Radical leaves, geminate, pubescent, with long and round petioles, reniform or kidney shaped, broad, entire, tip often mucronate but obtuse, surface puberulent, veined like a net work, and often spotted, glaucous beneath. No stems. Flower solitary between the two leaves, on a curved peduncle, tomentose, purple, darker inside. Perigone with three equal segments, acuminate reflexed. Stamina twelve unequal, filaments mucronate, anthers adnate laterally. Three filiform nectaries or abortive stamina, alternating with the segments. Style conical grooved, or six coalescent styles, crowned by six thick revolute stigmas. Capsul round, hexagonal, crowned, and with many small seeds.
History—A humble stemless plant, with flowers nearly concealed in the ground. It has many varieties, with small or large leaves, rounded or mucronate, spotted or unspotted; the flowers also vary in colour from greenish purple to dark purple: they blossom in May and June.
Asarum is an ancient name, the genus gives name to a natural order ASARIDES, called Aristolochides by Jussieu, and Sarmentacea by Linnaeus. In the Linnean system it is placed either in Dodecandria or Gynandria. It has been called Canadense, because first noticed in Canada, the name latifolia of Salisbury would be preferable.
The names of Wild Ginger, Heart Snakeroot, &c. are common to all the other species. The roots are often collected and sold for Virginia Snakeroot, although very different in appearance, but similar in taste, smell and properties. They deserve to be collected more extensively, as an article of trade and exportation; being an excellent substitute for ginger in every instance.
Locality—From Canada to Carolina and Missouri, in shady woods, it is most abundant in hills, valleys, and rich alluvions.
Qualities—The whole plant, but particularly the root, has an agreeable aromatic bitterish taste, intermediate between Ginger and Aristolochia serpentaria; but more pleasant, warm, and pungent. The smell is spicy and strong. The active substances are a volatile oil, possessing the taste and smell of the plant, with a red and bitter resin, both soluble in alcohol; they contain besides much fecula and mucilage.
Properties—Aromatic stimulant and diaphoretic, cordial, emenagogue, subtonic, errhine, &c.; but not properly emetic like the A. europeum, although often mentioned as such. It is a grateful substitute of the Serpentaria in many cases. It is useful in cachexia, melancholy, palpitations, low fevers, convalescence, obstructions, hooping-cough, &c. The doses must be small and often repeated, since it becomes nauseous in large doses. The best preparation is a cordial made with the tincture and syrup; the tincture is coloured dark red by the resin.
The dried leaves make a fine stimulating and cephalic snuff, when reduced to powder, which may be used in all disorders of the head and eyes. A grateful wine or beer may be made by the infusion of the whole plant, in fermenting wine or beer.
Substitutes—Ginger—Aristolochia serpentaria— Aralia species—Helenium autumnale—Spices—Laurus benzoin, with many aromatic stimulants, and all the other American species of this genus.
Remarks—A. Virginicum may be known by its smooth cordate leaves; it is found from Maryland to Georgia and Tennessee, particularly in mountains, and is still more grateful than A. Canadense.
A. arifolium has smooth, hastated, spotted leaves, and a tubular flower; it is found in Carolina and Tennessee.
The figure of Henry represents the leaves sharp, which is never the case, and he calls it Swamp Asarabocca, although never growing in swamps.
Additions and corrections
12. ASARUM CANADENSE—Varieties, 1. Macrophyllum, 2. Pumilum, 3. Acutifolium, I have lately seen this Var. with acute leaves in the Taconick mountains. The Western Indians use it as a styptic for wounds, and an abortive also. A large dose produces pyrosis and water brash, besides nausea. It may be combined with tonics to advantage.
ASARUM. Add, Dr. Firth says he has cured the tetanus by the decoction of A. canadense. The Indians make a fine snuff with A. virginicum, the fresh leaves are used for wounds and scrofula.
Medical Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, 1828, was written by C. S. Rafinesque.