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Spicing up the season with wild ginger

Wild Ginger 2012 harvest. Dried

Winter Wow, Spicing up the season with Wild Ginger, Asarum Canadense

 

Basking in a beam of sunlight-Wild Ginger in the woods - Ontario
Basking in a beam of sunlight-Wild Ginger in the woods – Ontario

Wild Ginger, or, Asarum Canadense, is a wild growing forest herb native to eastern north America from Quebec and Nova Scotia, down to Georgia and Tennessee. As a culinary spice, Wild Ginger has a bold distinct character, both in its fragrance and flavour. Though it shares a spicy bite with tropical Ginger, the similarities end there. In our area, Wild Ginger is not yet on the endangered list, let’s do what we can keep it that way. Try to buy  from reliable sources that practice ethical and sustainable harvesting, (especially when purchasing the essential oil which necessitates the harvest of large quantities), and if you’re going to harvest it yourself, please be considerate of the plants and the balance of nature. For insights on how to take care of your local wild growing Wild Ginger patches, you can read the post Wild Ginger flavourful fragrant Northern Treasure.

Wild Ginger, washed, weighed and ready
Wild Ginger, washed, weighed and ready for candying.
Wild Ginger 2012 harvest. Dried
Wild Ginger 2012 harvest. Dried

Unfortunately, most of us have little, or no experience with Wild Ginger in the kitchen.We are not familiar with its unique flavor and fragrance or how it can complement even the simplest of daily meals. In particular, how it transforms our traditional fall and winter dishes. Comparing it to Tropical Ginger is like comparing mangos to a really boring fruit, they both may be fruit, grow on trees, sweet, but very, very different from each other. They each have  different qualities we can utilize in the kitchen. Wild Ginger is very different from tropical ginger, not even belonging to the same family. From the perspective of flavour and fragrance, Wild Ginger offers us much more than regular Ginger.

 WILD GINGER or CANADA SNAKE SALAMANDER ROOT

Washed, and air drying prior to distilling essential oil, I think  that from now on, Wild Ginger should be called Canada Salamander root, instead of Canada Snake root. the new shoots always stagger out from their sides as if they are trying to scurry away and hide under a stone.
Washed, and air drying prior to distilling essential oil, I think  that from now on, Wild Ginger should be called Canada Salamander root, instead of Canada Snake root. the new shoots always stagger out from their sides as if they are trying to scurry away and hide under a stone.

Crooked, pencil diameter greenish-grey to black rhizomes, twisting, spreading, clinging  to the surface of the forest floor like undulating  salamanders frozen in a defensive “camo'” move. Called Canada Snakeroot in some traditions, the swollen pointed arrow shaped growing tips support this name, looking almost reptilian, but, the shorter offshoots, staggered and alternating to each side, make them look more like a startled nest of scurrying salamanders, than snakes with shorter snakes exiting their flanks.     That, my friends, was the easy part of describing Wild Ginger to you. I simply can’t think of any spice, plant, aroma or flavour, natural or other, that I have experienced that could possibly act as a reference for a comparative description. There is nothing I could say that would give you the slightest inkling of what you will experience when you taste or smell Wild Ginger, or the abundant inspired uses you will find for it in the kitchen. It  is simply not “like” anything else. Even naming this plant Wild Ginger is a stretch, but understandable.

Candied Wild Ginger
Candied Wild Ginger
Giving fresh harvested Wild Ginger a good scrub and rinse. Tip, do not do this in a sink, unless you are a plumber with lots of spare time :-)!
Giving fresh harvested Wild Ginger a good scrub and rinse. Tip, do not do this in a sink, unless you are a plumber with lots of spare time :-)!

So, as mentioned, Wild Ginger, tastes nothing like tropical Ginger. It does however have, among its rich complexities of fragrance and flavour, a spicy bite, that can be compared to the bite of tropical Ginger. But, that is about all they share. Can it be used as a replacement for “regular ginger in cooking and baking?, Yes, but, it is NOT a true replacement for it. A replacement would perform as the original, and a good replacement, would barely be noticed. This is NOT the case with Wild Ginger folks. You can try to use it as a replacement for regular Ginger, but instead of not noticing the substitute, you will get-a WOW!! Yes ma’am, a WOW!!  Eyes open as far as they can, eyebrow cocked, (one in question, one in awe), a pause, while they look you in the eye, silently asking. ?  ?  ? ,  And looking at the blankness in their other eye, through the iris dilated with awe, you see the little gears in their brains spinning around, clinking, grinding. In the foreground, little clerks run around amidst flying papers and reference notes of things they tasted, smelled, heard of in the past, but, they are fast coming up with nothing. Frantically trying to find anything to pass on to the mouth which is still hanging open silently. True story.  So it is not a replacement for Ginger, as much as it is a secret weapon in a cook’s or baker’s repertoire that can be substituted for regular ginger and wow people. People who may have expected the flavour of “normal”  ginger in your dish. I hope you gleaned some knowledge of what it is through what it isn’t. Because as implied in the preceding paragraph, describing Wild Ginger is a challenge. Therapeutically, Wild Ginger shares many of the same qualities that tropical ginger has, it is stimulating and warming, improving  the appetite and digestion, reduces nausea, acts as an anti-inflammatory. Topically it is a rubificant that stimulates surface blood-flow. It makes a wicked essential oil for perfume or aromatherapy. Wild Ginger abounds with oleoresins, with an accent on the resins, fragrant molecules a little heavier than essential oils, so they cannot be distilled off with the essential oils, but must be collected via solvent extraction such as alcohol. I believe the resins in Wild Ginger will eventually reveal great therapeutic value, just as the resins in Turmeric, Frankincense, Myrrh, the Spruces, and Fir family.

Distilling essential oil of Wild Ginger, Yumm.
Distilling essential oil of Wild Ginger, Yumm.

   It’s fragrance is perky and mesmerizes you with its unexpected depth and complexity.  Though not “perfumey”, it has a lovely bold and distinguished fragrance. With a hint of the forest floor, and spicy Maple leaves layered in the woods, caramelized sugar and Maple Syrup. This sweet spiciness is couched in a warm, woody masculine  floral note,  reminiscent of Neroli or Mock Orange blossoms with Black Pepper keeping it dry and crisp. Perhaps due to its abundance of resins, Wild Ginger has a persistent, soft, woody, amber-like balsam note holding it all together. A spicy, warm creaminess like Peru Balsam, Vanilla and Cloves. Wild Ginger, in its short description, is a spicy, sweet,  woody, dry floral fragrance with a vanilla amber note, and an uplifting,  flavourful and pleasant bite. So much more than tropical Ginger. I don’t know if any of the above attempts at describing wild ginger helped, or left you exactly where you were, but I did come up with the brilliant idea, (pat on the back), of making small 10 gram samplers that could be shipped inexpensively by regular letter mail. ($2.00?). Enough dry wild ginger pieces to make one or three pots of rice, or trays of squash, or pans of coffeecake, etc. Enough to experience it first hand in the kitchen and at the table. I hope by now you  can understand my frustration with words falling short of conveying in even the smallest measure how wonderful and useful this herb is. How it can transform the food we cook, and enrich our lives.I honestly see no way for second hand words to impart the understanding  first hand experience can give us. But I tried anyway.

Candied Wild Ginger and Pancake Syrup from 50 grams dried Wild Ginger
Candied Wild Ginger and Pancake Syrup. The yield  from 50 grams dried Wild Ginger

Using Wild Ginger in the kitchen

I am not an expert cook. I am though, a creative cook, and can whip up a mean batch of humus, a nourishing winter stew, or a succulent roast without much thought.  I do not have a huge collection of recipes. OK, I haven’t collected any culinary recipes. Ok, I don’t actually have any culinary recipes.  I try to practice trusting life to provide what I need when I need it, and there are soooooooooo many recipes online, it really does not take much faith, trust or effort to find a good recipe when I need one. I cast my Google net when I do, and  improvise. I cook like I shop. I pick 3 of the most appealing recipes on Google. Then,  after comparing, and finding the median in price, simplicity, method and daring, I change it. Or use parts of each. Most of the time I outdo myself with this approach and in general, it works well,  keeps me on my toes and engaged. I found it is very easy to improvise with wild Ginger and create unique dishes. It lends itself especially well to fall dishes and winter dishes with its warming fragrant spiciness. This for me, is another indication that fall is the best time to harvest this plant for essential oils and culinary applications. Wild Ginger is a very exciting spice to explore and work with, and the simplest way to do so is to substitute regular ginger in a recipe with wild Ginger.  It does have one or two quirks that are important to note before experimenting with it..

  • It is fairly easy to grind it up coarsely in a mortar and pestle,  then transfer it to a coffee grinder and turn most of it into a powder. This powder can be stored in spice jars, added anywhere you would like something a little different.
  •  Wild Ginger keeps well if stored well. Thoroughly dried in a sealed container. Storing any herb in a dark jar or cool dark spot, is always a good idea. Kept properly it will keep whole for over a decade! Powdered for 3-5 years. I attribute its extended shelf life to the resins it contains, I think they are naturally bound with the essential oils which keeps the fragrance from flying off.
  • Wild Ginger has the added benefit of adding a unique texture. For instance when ground coarsely these chunks tenderize nicely during the time that a pot of rice cooks, let’s say 20 minutes, and will turn into tender chewy,and very flavorful morsels in your rice dish.  This adds a lovely and surprising texture along with its unique flavour. Often when grinding this tough rhizome in the coffee grinder, you will find only half your quantity has powdered, and when passed through a simple sieve, you will be left with small nuggets. They are perfect as they are for adding flavoured texture..
  • Another difference between the wild Ginger and regular Ginger, is that wild Ginger is a little less spicy, and though it has much more character than regular ginger, it is modest and does not shout, bite or cut. It is rich but less outspoken than some spices. If the recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of regular dry Ginger one should usually add one and a half teaspoons of dried wild Ginger.

Everyday meals, fall dishes, warming winter treats, and holiday favourites. Baked goods, candies, cakes, cookies, casseroles and warm winter beverages.The possibilities with Wild Ginger are endless. Here are some thoughts and ideas for where Wild Ginger could be wonderfully suited.

  •  Pumpkin pies A perfect match for your filling, adjust the other spices accordingly, more WG-less Nutmeg or other spices. Use your intuition, your nose, you’ll do fine.
  • Sweet potatoes and squash dishes, add powdered WG to the butter, garlic or whatever you baste it with.
  • Gingerbread,  Ginger-snaps, spice loaf, coffeecake. A little more WG is required than regular Ginger, about 1 1/2- 2 times WG as called for regular ginger. Adjust the original spices accordingly.
  • Rice dishes, as I mentioned Wild Ginger chunks, (about 1/8″ long), make lovely pieces of chewy flavoured tenderness, it goes really well with wild mushrooms, chicken stock, beef stock and vegetable stock.
  •  Venison, Bison, Wild game and fowl are flattered by Wild Ginger. It also helps lighten heaviness and eases digestion of heavy or wild meats.  The flavours blend beautifully!!
  • Added to a stuffing and a baste for regular store-bought turkey, chicken, pork, WG  helps cut any fat or heaviness associated with meat dishes, while adding a beautiful flavour and spiciness that blends seamlessly with your dish. It really shines!
  • Eggnog Wild Ginger is a lovely touch and lends rich spicy notes to eggnog.  It lifts it up!
  • Ice cream? If you make your own, use WG as your main or secondary flavour.
  • Wild Ginger is excellent as a tea infused in hot water, or added to your favorite herb tea or chai.  1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground fine per cup of boiling water works well alone or in most herbal and fruit type teas. It is warming to the body helps ease a sore throat, dispel nausea and stimulate digestion.
  •  Pancakes and hot breakfast cereals can benefit from a pinch of powdered WG  in the mix, especially when using fruit in your batter, like blueberries.
  • Mulled Cider is transformed and sublimated with the addition of wild ginger. It will be an eye opener at gatherings! The wow! factor.
  • The same goes for mulled wine.
  • Needless to say a pancake syrup made from wild Ginger is exceptionally yummy and memorable. You can find directions for making a Wild Ginger syrup along with the recipes for making candied Wild Ginger in these two posts. Candied Wild Ginger Recipe, and Candied Wild Ginger, a recipe from fresh.
  • Elderberry wine, Dandelion wine and many other wild brews benefit greatly from a measure of Wild Ginger. I think you get the point by now, so I won’t ramble on any further.

These are a starting point really. Some I have myself made over the years, some I hope to make in the future. Wild Ginger takes them all up a notch. I would love to hear of any ones experiences growing, harvesting, distilling or cooking with Asarum Canadense. Any comments, insights, inspirations, recipes, thoughts and of course questions, would be more than welcome. Anytime. I wish you all an illuminated Winter Solstice, and a wonderful, warm, inspiring Winter. Dan

Wild Ginger-10 gram samplers
This just might work better than words. Wild Ginger-10 gram samplers-Perfect stocking stuffers too!

If you live in the Hamilton area, you can purchase these samplers at Humblepie, on James Street North. Susan also carries a selection of Frankincense and Myrrh samplers and some of my Astrodynamic preparations. Here’s a link to her site.Humblepielifestyle.com

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Candied wild ginger- a Recipe “from fresh”

Candied Wild Ginger 2013-Apothecary's Garden
Wild Ginger - Asarum Canadense,Ontario
Wild Ginger – Asarum Canadense,Ontario

Since I posted my recipe for candied wild Ginger made from dry wild Ginger, I have been itching to make the “from fresh” version.

I had to be patient, waiting till it had finished flowering and seeding itself, it seemed the polite, considerate thing to do. No one likes to be disturbed while procreating. So Friday I went out and spent three hours on my hands and knees harvesting fresh wild Ginger for our recipe. Did I mention I turned 59 last Saturday?!! I know it’s just a number, but allow me a little moaning and groaning. I have earned at least that for being in this body for so long. Harvesting, visiting my old friends was a lovely and of course fragrant experience, but after a winter in front of the computer, blogging, I am paying the price the past couple of days. My body aches, my butt hurts, my legs & lower back feel tender. A sudden, and extended sprint of, down on your knees bent over and reaching using both hands to cut and collect roots with the occasional elbow for support, has left me a little tender and sore days later. Thank God for St. John’s Wort Oil.

 

I harvested about 5 kg per hour or 15 kg of fresh wild Ginger which after drying would be about 4 Kg. Enough for a couple of good shareable batches of confection and syrup, while building up some stock for the extraction of essential oil. I need about 15 Kg. of dry wild ginger to properly charge my essential oil still and do an efficient extraction of this truly amazing and versatile essential oil. I sometimes feel I couldn’t make perfume or mens products without it.

 

I must admit the resulting candied recipe from fresh Wild Ginger is a little different. A little more succulent and tender than the same product from dry. They both have the same level of yumminess, taste and fragrance, but the winter version from dried is a tad, well, drier. Chewier. (I may try changing the recipe a bit and see if I can get it to reconstitute a bit more when cooking.)

 

Candied Wild Ginger 2013-Apothecary's Garden
Candied Wild Ginger 2013-Apothecary’s Garden

If you have already identified Asarum Canadense, know where to find some, or have a proven patch of Wild Ginger and have made its acquaintance, then you are almost ready to harvest. If you are new to this and have not yet identified Wild Ginger, then be aware there are some challenges, mostly along the lines of look-alikes . Luckily, in our area, none are harmful, and the worst experience you might have is mounting frustration from being misdirected by Colt’s foot, Wild Violets, or young Garlic Mustard. Don’t be surprised if you do not find it the first year of seeking. It took me a few years till I finally was granted an audience.

 

So, if you have

 

  • a decent photo,
  • a basic knowledge of where Wild Ginger does and does not grow,
  • and a functioning olfactory member,( nose), then it is only a matter of time before you find Wild Ginger.

Wild Ginger ONLY grows in the woods and forests, often on slopes, NEVER in the open, or on roadsides, stream banks, fields or deserted waste places. Coltsfoot will grow in all these places and will even penetrate somewhat into the woods. Coltsfoot will be your first imposter and will mislead you as long as you let it. They both grow in shaded areas, though Coltsfoot will tolerate sun, they both grow to about 8 inches in height and have 6-12 inch wide heart-shaped leaves. The similarities end there.

 

Coltsfoot has a scalloped edge to its leaf, a fine fur or fuzz on stalk and underside, has a stalk bearing multiple yellow compound flowers in very early spring before the leaf comes out, ( why it is also called son before father), and has an odd smell. Not a bad smell, but not fragrant or reminiscent of Ginger in the slightest way.

Wild Ginger
Wild Ginger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wild Ginger has a smooth-edged leaf, smooth on top and bottom, has almost a reflective sheen to it, as if it was embedded with tiny glass beads that shimmered a bit but only at the right angle. It unfurls its leaves in the spring before it flowers a dark purple, often downward facing flower which is completely hidden unless one lifts a leaf and exposes it. And of course, Wild Ginger is intensely and unmistakably fragrant!

 

Wild Ginger-Asarum Canadense, close up - Ontario
Wild Ginger-Asarum Canadense, close up – Ontario

HARVESTING

 

When you meet a plant for the first time, it is always courteous to greet it, introduce yourself, leave an offering or gift of some sort. Perhaps to state your intent. Many cultures ask permission to harvest. It is at the very least a relationship. What kind, or how rewarding a relationship it becomes often is up to us. I usually find one patch that is separate from the rest and I place an offering. I introduce myself if it’s a new patch that I never been to, or I simply say hello to an old friend and I usually leave something. It doesn’t matter what you give as long as you give something that has meaning to you. It could be some food it could be some tobacco or a symbolic offering. It could be Money or coins, or even something personal like spit or urine that is applied in a reverent and respectful manner. It’s symbolic of giving and taking, balance and harmony, of your intent. As in life in general, we get what we give. Once the introductions and gift exchange is done, I excluded that spot from harvesting.

 

One of the most important things about harvesting in the wild, or “Wildcrafting“, is keeping the well-being of the plants in mind, harvesting in a way that will be beneficial to the plants as well as to yourself. We don’t want to leave the patch struggling for years to recuperate from the effects of our harvesting or over harvesting.

 

For this reason I harvest patches that aren’t too noticeable, will grow in quickly over the course of two or three years and I also try to collect the older roots, the “Nexus” where there is a heavier concentration of older roots and old-growth. This way I collect from a richer area, spend less time harvesting, and facilitate the vigorous growth of younger shoots that will fill in the area quickly. I should point out here, since there have been questions about which part of the plant is used, that I remove all the leaves when I am harvesting, pinching them off with my thumbnail or harvesting tool. The rootlets are not the fragrant or useable part, but since there is so much soil clinging to them, I leave them on till I can wash out all the soil with water. It is the rhizome that is of interest to us.

 

As I mentioned in my earlier post on wild Ginger I enjoy harvesting with bone tools. I find that using metal for harvesting plants just doesn’t feel right. With my background of sculptor and craftsman, specializing in natural materials, I make my own simple bone harvesting tools. If anyone is interested I can probably provide bone “blanks” to carve or shape your own tools, or a ready to use bone or antler harvesting tool. I should have them displayed in my web-shop by July.

 

There is an abundance of information available on traditions and methods of harvesting plants in the wild from cultures all over the world. I could and should write a page on the subject because it is simply too much to add here and so very very important, it deserves its own page. Identifying and finding the plants we are looking for is only a small part of the path. In reality it only leads us to the door. What will you do once you enter Natures door? How will you behave? Will you behave as the best a human can be? And what does that mean? Treat others as you would be treated? What kind of relationship will you have with her? What quality of relationship will you have and what quality of products will you be able to make with Natures bounty? Is there a connection between the two? We are shifting away from quantity based agriculture and mass production. There is only one other and opposing path, and that is the path of the individual, not the masses. The path of depth, not breadth, intuition and not one size fits all generalized solutions . We are at the brink of, and being forced over the cliff into a new way of thinking and behaving in the world. Rethinking. Individual responsibility. Yes, well, perhaps a few pages will be needed to address methods and approach to Wildcrafting and our relationship with nature!

 

There are mixed opinions as far as what planet rules Wild Ginger. Her heart-shaped leaves and delightful fragrance indicate that she is ruled by Venus, her spiciness seems an indication of Mars being her ruler. I lean towards Venus, especially after working with the essential oil of Wild Ginger in perfumery. It adds a beautiful, depth and richness to a perfume. nothing like the sharpness or heat a Martian scent would share. Thus, the hours and days of Venus are when I harvest this fragrant herb.

 

astrological glyphs, planetary rulerships.
Astrological Glyphs- Planets and Asteroids Chaldean. Though Planets and their dynamics with each other and our world are one element at the core of Astrodynamics and Plant Alchemy. Each Plant is associated with an astrological sign, planet or both. They are said to resonate on similar frequencies, to share characteristics. Plants are at their peak energetically when their ruler is well aspected or exalted in the current natal chart

So pay attention to the stars. Some things you have to experience for your self, study yourself, and only you can say if it does or does not make a difference to the end product. Some wisdom cannot be given us, taught to us. Perhaps knowledge can be passed down, but wisdom we must earn from life and personal experience.

 

On a more mundane level.

 

There really is no way to clean Wild Ginger rhizomes of soil while you’re harvesting. A large quantity of water is necessary anyway you look at it, so I take my harvest home, and I put it in a very large container filled with water.

 

Never try to clean Wild Ginger in the sink in the house. It will eventually if not immediately clog your trap with silt and mud and add a lot of extra labor to your endeavor. Just because you managed to do this once with no apparent consequences, don’t be fooled, ( as I was).

 

It usually takes me two or three good washes in deep water scrubbing and stirring the roots and dumping out the dirty water or removing the clean rhizomes from the dirty water before washing them again.

 

Wild Ginger-Asarum Canadense, scrubbing clean keep changing the water till nothing more can be removed.
Wild Ginger-Asarum Canadense, scrubbing clean and keep changing the water till nothing more can be removed.

A Recipe for making Candied Wild Ginger using fresh rhizomes

-250 Grams, or 1 heaping cup of washed and cleaned Wild Ginger roots cut to 1/2 to 2 inch lengths
-500 Ml. or 2 cups water
-500 Grams or 2 cups white sugar
-extra sugar for coating
-This recipe can be doubled or tripled easily. It yields in its basic form, about 2 cups or 500 grams of candied treats.
—————————————————————-
-Bring water and sugar to a boil
-add cleaned and cut Wild Ginger rhizomes
-bring to a boil
-reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour
-When cooled to room temperature pour syrup mix and Wild Ginger into a glass jar.
-let sit closed for 3 days.
-Pour off syrup and boil till it reaches 125 degrees Celcius.
-Add Wild Ginger and boil for 15 minutes.
-When room temperature, remove Wild Ginger to a rack and allow to drip dry.
-When no more syrup is dripping from the rhizomes roll the pieces in sugar, making sure they are thoroughly coated.
-Let Ginger pieces sit in sugar overnight or for 8 hours.
-Shake off excess sugar and put your candied Wild Ginger in a sealed jar.
– It will keep for years if it does not get consumed first.

Recipe for Wild Ginger Pancake Syrup

Add the sugar from coating the Ginger to the syrup and bring to a boil for 10 minutes. Bottle it in sterile jars or decorative bottles where it should keep for a couple of months in a cool dark place. If not using sterile vessels it will keep in the fridge for an equal length of time.

 

I am almost at the final stage of changing over from wordpress.com to wordpress.org on a self hosted site, incorporating a storefront in the native layout. I will not go into too many details, but the past few weeks have been quite challenging and presented a few steep learning curves with all the expected frustrations and roadblocks. Now for the juggling act, to try to seamlessly transfer everyone over to my new site without anyone,( or googlebots), noticing. Or at least I hope it is not too jarring a transfer. So, sometime over the next few days I hope to do this, be prepared and bear with me while I switch moving vehicles on the highway! I will see you on the other side.

 

Dan

 

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Candied Wild Ginger, a Recipe “from Fresh”

Wild Ginger - Asarum Canadense,Ontario

Since I posted my recipe for candied wild Ginger made from dry wild Ginger, I have been itching to make the “from fresh” version.

I had to be patient, waiting till it had finished flowering and seeding itself, it seemed the polite, considerate thing to do. No one likes to be disturbed while procreating. So Friday I went out and spent three hours on my hands and knees harvesting fresh wild Ginger for our recipe. Did I mention I turned 59 last Saturday?!! I know it’s just a number, but allow me a little moaning and groaning. I have earned at least that for being in this body for so long. Harvesting, visiting my old friends was a lovely and of course fragrant experience, but after a winter in front of the computer, blogging, I am paying the price the past couple of days. My body aches, my butt hurts, my legs & lower back feel tender. A sudden, and extended sprint of, down on your knees bent over and reaching using both hands to cut and collect roots with the occasional elbow for support, has left me a little tender and sore days later. Thank God for St. John’s Wort Oil.

I harvested about 5 kg per hour or 15 kg of fresh wild Ginger which after drying would be about 4 Kg. Enough for a couple of good shareable batches of confection and syrup, while building up some stock for the extraction of essential oil. I need about 15 Kg. of dry wild ginger to properly charge my essential oil still and do an efficient extraction of this truly amazing and versatile essential oil. I sometimes feel I couldn’t make perfume or mens products without it.

I must admit the resulting candied recipe from fresh Wild Ginger is a little different. A little more succulent and tender than the same product from dry. They both have the same level of yumminess, taste and fragrance, but the winter version from dried is a tad, well, drier. Chewier. (I may try modifying the recipe a bit and see if I can get it to reconstitute a bit more when cooking.)

Candied Wild Ginger, from dried rhizomes-2013
Candied Wild Ginger, from dried rhizomes-2013

If you have already identified Asarum Canadense, know where to find some, or have a proven patch of Wild Ginger and have made its acquaintance, then you are almost ready to harvest. If you are new to this and have not yet identified Wild Ginger, then be aware there are some challenges, mostly along the lines of look-alikes . Luckily, in our area, none are harmful, and the worst experience you might have is mounting frustration from being misdirected by Colt’s foot, Wild Violets, or young Garlic Mustard. Don’t be surprised if you do not find it the first year of seeking. It took me a few years till I finally was granted an audience.

So, if you have

  • a decent photo,
  • a basic knowledge of where Wild Ginger does and does not grow,
  • and a functioning olfactory member,( nose), then it is only a matter of time before you find Wild Ginger.

Wild Ginger ONLY grows in the woods and forests, often on slopes, NEVER in the open, or on roadsides, stream banks, fields or deserted waste places. Coltsfoot will grow in all these places and will even penetrate somewhat into the woods. Coltsfoot will be your first imposter and will mislead you as long as you let it. They both grow in shaded areas, though Coltsfoot will tolerate sun, they both grow to about 8 inches in height and have 6-12 inch wide heart-shaped leaves. The similarities end there.

Coltsfoot has a scalloped edge to its leaf, a fine fur or fuzz on stalk and underside, has a stalk bearing multiple yellow compound flowers in very early spring before the leaf comes out, ( why it is also called son before father), and has an odd smell. Not a bad smell, but not fragrant or reminiscent of Ginger in the slightest way.

Wild Ginger has a smooth-edged leaf, smooth on top and bottom, has almost a reflective sheen to it, as if it was embedded with tiny glass beads that shimmered a bit but only at the right angle. It unfurls its leaves in the spring before it flowers a dark purple, often downward facing flower which is completely hidden unless one lifts a leaf and exposes it. And of course, Wild Ginger is intensely and unmistakably fragrant!

Wild Ginger-Asarum Canadense, close up - Ontario
Wild Ginger-Asarum Canadense, close up – Ontario

HARVESTING

When you meet a plant for the first time, it is always courteous to greet it, introduce yourself, leave an offering or gift of some sort. Perhaps to state your intent. Many cultures ask permission to harvest. It is at the very least a relationship. What kind, or how rewarding a relationship it becomes often is up to us. I usually find one patch that is separate from the rest and I place an offering. I introduce myself if it’s a new patch that I never been to, or I simply say hello to an old friend and I usually leave something. It doesn’t matter what you give as long as you give something that has meaning to you. It could be some food it could be some tobacco or a symbolic offering. It could be Money or coins, or even something personal like spit or urine that is applied in a reverent and respectful manner. It’s symbolic of giving and taking, balance and harmony, of your intent. As in life in general, we get what we give. Once the introductions and gift exchange is done, I excluded that spot from harvesting.

One of the most important things about harvesting in the wild, or “Wildcrafting“, is keeping the well-being of the plants in mind, harvesting in a way that will be beneficial to the plants as well as to yourself. We don’t want to leave the patch struggling for years to recuperate from the effects of our harvesting or over harvesting.

For this reason I harvest patches that aren’t too noticeable, will grow in quickly over the course of two or three years and I also try to collect the older roots, the “Nexus” where there is a heavier concentration of older roots and old-growth. This way I collect from a richer area, spend less time harvesting, and facilitate the vigorous growth of younger shoots that will fill in the area quickly. I should point out here, since there have been questions about which part of the plant is used, that I remove all the leaves when I am harvesting, pinching them off with my thumbnail or harvesting tool. The rootlets are not the fragrant or useable part, but since there is so much soil clinging to them, I leave them on till I can wash out all the soil with water. It is the rhizome that is of interest to us.

As I mentioned in my earlier post on wild Ginger I enjoy harvesting with bone tools. I find that using metal for harvesting plants just doesn’t feel right. With my background of sculptor and craftsman, specializing in natural materials, I make my own simple bone harvesting tools. If anyone is interested I can probably provide bone “blanks” to carve or shape your own tools, or a ready to use bone or antler harvesting tool. I should have them displayed in my web-shop by July.

There is an abundance of information available on traditions and methods of harvesting plants in the wild from cultures all over the world. I could and should write a page on the subject because it is simply too much to add here and so very very important, it deserves its own page. Identifying and finding the plants we are looking for is only a small part of the path. In reality it only leads us to the door. What will you do once you enter Natures door? How will you behave? Will you behave as the best a human can be? And what does that mean? Treat others as you would be treated? What kind of relationship will you have with her? What quality of relationship will you have and what quality of products will you be able to make with Natures bounty? Is there a connection between the two? We are shifting away from quantity based agriculture and mass production. There is only one other and opposing path, and that is the path of the individual, not the masses. The path of depth, not breadth, intuition and not one size fits all generalized solutions . We are at the brink of, and being forced over the cliff into a new way of thinking and behaving in the world. Rethinking. Individual responsibility. Yes, well, perhaps a few pages will be needed to address methods and approach to Wildcrafting and our relationship with nature!

There are mixed opinions as far as what planet rules Wild Ginger. Her heart-shaped leaves and delightful fragrance indicate that she is ruled by Venus, her spiciness seems an indication of Mars being her ruler. I lean towards Venus, especially after working with the essential oil of Wild Ginger in perfumery. It adds a beautiful, depth and richness to a perfume. nothing like the sharpness or heat a Martian scent would share. Thus, the hours and days of Venus are when I harvest this fragrant herb.

astrological glyphs, planetary rulerships.
Astrological Glyphs- Planets and Asteroids Chaldean. Though Planets and their dynamics with each other and our world are one element at the core of Astrodynamics and Plant Alchemy. Each Plant is associated with an astrological sign, planet or both. They are said to resonate on similar frequencies, to share characteristics. Plants are at their peak energetically when their ruler is well aspected or exalted in the current natal chart

So pay attention to the stars. Some things you have to experience for your self, study yourself, and only you can say if it does or does not make a difference to the end product. Some wisdom cannot be given us, taught to us. Perhaps knowledge can be passed down, but wisdom we must earn from life and personal experience.

On a more mundane level.

There really is no way to clean Wild Ginger rhizomes of soil while you’re harvesting. A large quantity of water is necessary anyway you look at it, so I take my harvest home, and I put it in a very large container filled with water.

Never try to clean Wild Ginger in the sink in the house. It will eventually if not immediately clog your trap with silt and mud and add a lot of extra labor to your endeavor. Just because you managed to do this once with no apparent consequences, don’t be fooled, ( as I was).

It usually takes me two or three good washes in deep water scrubbing and stirring the roots and dumping out the dirty water or removing the clean rhizomes from the dirty water before washing them again.

Wild Ginger-Asarum Canadense, scrubbing clean keep changing the water till nothing more can be removed.
Wild Ginger-Asarum Canadense, scrubbing clean and keep changing the water till nothing more can be removed.

A Recipe for making Candied Wild Ginger using fresh rhizomes

-250 Grams, or 1 heaping cup of washed and cleaned Wild Ginger roots cut to 1/2 to 2 inch lengths
-500 Ml. or 2 cups water
-500 Grams or 2 cups white sugar
-extra sugar for coating
-This recipe can be doubled or tripled easily. It yields in its basic form, about 2 cups or 500 grams of candied treats.
—————————————————————-
-Bring water and sugar to a boil
-add cleaned and cut Wild Ginger rhizomes
-bring to a boil
-reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour
-When cooled to room temperature pour syrup mix and Wild Ginger into a glass jar.
-let sit closed for 3 days.
-Pour off syrup and boil till it reaches 125 degrees Celcius.
-Add Wild Ginger and boil for 15 minutes.
-When room temperature, remove Wild Ginger to a rack and allow to drip dry.
-When no more syrup is dripping from the rhizomes roll the pieces in sugar, making sure they are thoroughly coated.
-Let Ginger pieces sit in sugar overnight or for 8 hours.
-Shake off excess sugar and put your candied Wild Ginger in a sealed jar.
– It will keep for years if it does not get consumed first.

Recipe for Wild Ginger Pancake Syrup

Add the sugar from coating the Ginger to the syrup and bring to a boil for 10 minutes. Bottle it in sterile jars or decorative bottles where it should keep for a couple of months in a cool dark place. If not using sterile vessels it will keep in the fridge for an equal length of time.

I am almost at the final stage of changing over from wordpress.com to wordpress.org on a self hosted site, incorporating a storefront in the native layout. I will not go into too many details, but the past few weeks have been quite challenging and presented a few steep learning curves with all the expected frustrations and roadblocks. Now for the juggling act, to try to seamlessly transfer everyone over to my new site without anyone,( or googlebots), noticing. Or at least I hope it is not too jarring a transfer. So, sometime over the next few days I hope to do this, be prepared and bear with me while I switch moving vehicles on the highway! I will see you on the other side.

Dan

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Wild Ginger, Flavorful, Fragrant Northern Treasure

Wild-Ginger-Ontario- Hidden medicine and gourmet spice14-06-2013-

Wild Ginger- Asarum Canadense

Not many people are familiar with Wild Ginger.
It is one of those unique, well hidden treasures of the deep woods that some Canadians or Northeastern Americans might come across, but most would not recognize. This may be a good thing. I believe it is on the protected list in Maine as a threatened plant, and I wouldn’t want to see a trend.

Wild Ginger, HiddenTreasure of our Northern Woods
Wild Ginger, Asarum Canadense.  Hidden treasure of our Northern Woods. Used in the Medicinal, Culinary and  Fragrant “Arts”. Photo courtesy of Chris S. Packard

Shade loving and often found on north facing slopes under mixed hardwoods, It clings to humus, wends around rocks, clutching at the surface of the soil and more often than not does a good job stopping soil erosion.

Sleeping Wild Ginger, Asarum Canadense Ancaster Ontatio. Like the rest of us, patiently waiting for Spring. April 2013
Sleeping Wild Ginger Ancaster Ontatio. Like the rest of us, patiently waiting for Spring. April 2013

I would put it in a similar category of useful and highly valuable native plants as our Lady Slipper Orchid , which is almost extinct from encroachment of  roads and cities and from over-harvesting.

Wild Ginger
Wild Ginger (Photo credit: BlueRidgeKitties)

Beautiful large green heart-shaped leaves glow & glimmer with an almost iridescent depth. In the spring they shyly hide beautiful purplish flowers, making them almost invisible. As if they were doing everything they could to not be found or recognized, to hide themselves from prying eyes and greedy hands. Leaves are similar in size, shape, colour and height to the Coltsfoot that grows almost everywhere here. Making it even harder to make a first acquaintance. It took me almost 2  years of false starts,  impulsive roadside pullovers, dashes across  fields, into woods, across streams, being so sure I had, finally, found it, …… and each time, catching myself a little sooner,  my initial excitement tempered with a little more skepticism, as I sought out the telltale’s of those impostors,  Coltsfoot and Wild Violets, blatantly impersonating Wild Ginger. Finally, I assume because the time was right, I was granted a personal audience. Deep in the woods, one on one, while hunting wild Mushrooms. I wasn’t even looking for it at the time!! 

 It’s Latin name is Asarum Canadense. Distinguishing it from its European cousin Asarum Europeaum, which has a little to no aroma and a general resemblance only on the surface. I believe the European version is in general toxic and medicinally acts as an  emetic and Cathartic so beware. Also an abortifacient if I am not mistaken. Though it makes a pretty good shade loving ground cover in Northern climates if anyone.

A dense colony of European wild ginger (Asarum...
A dense colony of European wild ginger (Asarum europaeum) at the Botanical Gardens in Münster, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ahhhh Wild Ginger what can I say? You really have to smell it, taste it to know what I’m talking about. Scientifically it does not belong to the ginger family at all, But once you meet it you’ll know immediately why it got its name. Not quite as “hot” as Asian Ginger, but more than makes up for bite in its complex spicy flavour. It has an aroma and taste that gives it extensive possibilities in an infinite number of dishes

In the field of Natural Perfumery, its essential oil is exquisite! There’s nothing like it. I use it  in perfumes, colognes, aftershaves and room sprays. Basically wherever I can. It blends well with Citrus, Woody and Balsamic essential oils, made easily into a  perfume tincture.  It has a high percent of volatile oils so it is worth the effort of distilling the essential oil, and I would love to extract a resinoid or concrete someday soon. I have a feeling it would add even more potential to its use in perfumery.

    An interesting characteristic, is that when steam distilling the essential oil of Wild Ginger, the oil comes over a beautiful Emerald green, but over the course of a few weeks it changes permanently to a rich Amber colour. I know of no other essential oils that behave this way.

My first Distillation of Wild Ginger essential oil, (2004?)
My first Distillation of Wild Ginger essential oil, (2004?). Gorgeous Green, after a few weeks mellows to a rich Amber colour. Just one more thing that makes it unique.

As a tea, the ground rhizomes  are delicious, help ease a sore throat, mix well with other stimulating and spicy tea herbs, fruit or Citrus peels. It is warming and rejuvenating, lovely in the winter and like regular Ginger it encourages good digestion and discourages flatulence. Native North American tribes have historically used it for medicine and ceremony. In the summer I add it to iced tea and Lemonade. As a base for an alcoholic or non-alcoholic brewed Ginger Ale or beer, there is nothing like it!

Wild Ginger complements rice dishes, wild mushrooms, (and regular ones), fowl, Venison, Beef, Lamb, Chicken etc., etc., anything really!! Roasts and stir frys, Casseroles and pasta dishes. Sauces and Salad Dressings. Coarsely grind some  with Mortar and Pestle and throw it in a pot of rice. It will transform it. Each little piece will turn into a flavorful chewy delicious tidbit by the time your rice is cooked, adding not only fragrance and flavor but a unique texture to your rice pot. Though I would not suggest completely replacing Ginger in the kitchen with Wild Ginger*, it creates delightful results anywhere regular Ginger is called for.

Candies, cakes, cookies and confections are a very exiting area to explore with Wild Ginger.  The rhizomes make a wicked candied treat when boiled in sugar-water, then rolled in sugar, keeping unrefrigerated till it is gone, (which I promise you is never long), and the fragrant syrup from this process is perfect as a pancake or ice cream Syrup. If this Candied Wild Ginger is dipped in chocolate, I know of no other home-made confection that could compare. I add ground wild Ginger to fruit and herbal wines, Fruit cocktails and salads. I Have used it as a flavour component in a distilled liqueur, in Elderberry and Dandelion wines. There might be culinary applications it is not suited to at least experiment with. But honestly, I can’t think of even one! I usually add about 1 1/2 times more Wild Ginger to a recipe than regular dried Ginger.

A treat for the senses, Wild Ginger, Asarum Canadenses offers infinite delights in the kitchen and Perfume studio.
A treat for the senses, Wild Ginger, Asarum Canadenses offers infinite possibilities and delights in the kitchen.

If the dried rhizomes are properly stored, whole, not ground, they can keep for up to 8  years without losing their fragrance and potency. (as has been my experience). When Wild Ginger is ground and properly stored, three years is about the length of time before the flavor starts fading. I dare anyone that reads this to keep Wild Ginger in any amount till such time as the fragrance fades!! If you have it, you will use it till it is all gone!

One of my "secret" plots of Wild Ginger is under the cover of this gorgeous fall scene. Another reason fall harvesting is different than Spring.
One of my “secret” plots of Wild Ginger is under the cover of this gorgeous fall scene. Another reason fall harvesting is different than Spring. I can almost smell it!

For the past 14 years I have taken care of some plots of Wild Ginger growing “untended” in our area. (Locations I keep secret and share with only a handful of trusted friends). I harvest yearly in the fall and sometimes in the spring, experiencing the subtle differences each season lends it as I rotate between plots. After much trial and error I have come up with a couple of good harvesting methods that strike a balance between bringing home a bountiful harvest, and leaving behind happy thriving plants. This allows me to harvest every other year or so, and come back to vibrant vigorous growth that shows barely a sign of my presence. A very satisfying feeling. Win win, like good business we all benefit and do well from our relationship. Give and take. Honesty. A happy relationship. 

Bone Harvesting tool for Wild Ginger
Bone Harvesting tool made specifically for Wild Ginger. With a long, very sharp edge, it slides between rhizome and soil, cleanly and quickly slicing it from rootlets. Painless, smooth, and somehow not as obtrusive or discordant as a steel tool. The angled handle and sharpened tip make the design even more functional. It is a joy to work with.

There are many myths, anthropological, cultural and hard to prove theories about not using “Cold Steel” to harvest plants. whether it disturbs the plants energy, or the energies that are exterior to the plant. Mostly theories that are very difficult to prove even with advanced tools. Some things we just have to study or try for ourselves or we will never find out what is fact, what is fiction, what works and what doesn’t.

 I must admit, using bone tools feels like I am working from the inside out, if that makes any sense. As if I am a part of the plant or process, not intruding, disrupting, invading.  Feels more like sharing than taking. Sometimes I can only tell if something really works by how it “feels” to me, or by the results I get, like using Astrodynamics and Astrology to work in harmony with the plants. (As I do with Wild Ginger as well). The resulting products look, smell, and work better, last longer than the mass harvested and processed products I gauge them against. The whole process, in all it’s parts, just “feels” right, so that’s what I do. I also keep a thumbnail or two, extra long, from late Spring into Late fall, specifically for harvesting semi soft stems of flowers and medicinal plants. It’s just what works for me. No one else is obligated to follow suit.

Wild Ginger, Fall 2012 harvest hanging from rafters for essential oil medicinal and culinary applications.
Wild Ginger, Fall 2012 harvest hanging from rafters curing.

I finally took down a few kilograms of fall 2012 harvest Wild Ginger that has hung from my rafters since the fall. I will distill a few Kilograms into essential oil this week, and keep the rest to sell locally and in my online shop.  If anyone is interested in making the acquaintance of my fragrant friend. I’d be happy to grind some up for you, or ship you whole   pieces.

Fall harvest of 2012 is cured, it always seems to mellow in the loveliest way when I make myself wait at least till spring to bring it down and use it

It is ready now to use for all the above mentioned purposes and pleasures, and I will have it set up for sale in my web-store at apothecarysgarden.com  once I get this blog posted and have a break! Here is a link to the Apothecary’s garden shop, Have a look. If you like you can order some for yourself and try it in your own dishes, and please let me know what you think.

Wild Ginger 2012 Harvest. Whole, ground and in pieces. Fresh, fragrant and flavorful, waiting to inspire and share itself.
Wild Ginger 2012 Harvest. Whole, ground and in pieces. Fresh, fragrant and flavorful, waiting to inspire and be shared.

I will post some of my favourite Wild Ginger recipes on my Recipe Page, but please be patient, it may take me a few days to get that organized. So check back if you don’t find anything new. Everything seems to take time!!!

* Wild Ginger belongs to a very large family of plants found around the world. Some of its distant relatives, especially in northern Asia have been found to contain amounts of aristolochic acid which is a carcinogen. As far as I know our Asarum species does not contain these acids in any but trace amounts, if at all. I have not been able to find any information or studies done specifically on our Wild Ginger in this regard, but I do suggest not replacing your use of Ginger completely with Wild Ginger. Everything in moderation.  And educate yourself… Here is a link to the Wikipedia site for Asarum Canadense, if anyone would like to edify themselves further.

Thanks

Dan