Herb: Snake Root


Latin name: Asarum canadense


Family: Aristolochiaceae (Birthwort Family)



Medicinal use of Snake Root:

Snake root was widely employed as a medicinal herb by a number of native North American tribes who used it to treat a wide range of ailments. It is still occasionally used in modern herbalism. The root is anthelmintic, carminative, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, irritant, powerfully stimulant, stomachic and tonic. It is harvested in the autumn and dried for later use. It is used in the treatment of chronic chest complaints, asthma, coughs, colds, dropsy, painful spasms of the bowels and stomach, scant or painful menstruation, infantile convulsions. The fresh leaves are applied as a poultice to wounds and inflammations, whilst a decoction or salve is applied to sores. The root contains antibiotic substances effective against broad-spectrum bacteria and fungi. It also contains aristolochic acid, which has antitumor activity. The root and rhizome were slowly boiled in a small quantity of water for a long time and the resulting liquid drunk as a contraceptive by the women of one N. American Indian tribe.

Description of the plant:



Plant:
Deciduous
Perennial

Height:
10 cm
(4 inches)

Flovering:
May


Scent:
Scented
Perennial

Habitat of the herb:

Moist rich soils in woodlands, usually on calcareous soils. Understorey of deciduous (rarely coniferous) forests from sea level to 1300 metres.

Edible parts of Snake Root:

The underground stem and the flowers are used as a ginger substitute. The root, especially when quite dry, has a pungent, aromatic smell like mild pepper and ginger mixed, but more strongly aromatic. The root is best harvested in autumn but is available all year round. It can be dried for later use.

Other uses of the herb:

The slightly roasted root can be ground into a powder and then sprinkled onto clothing for perfume. A useful ground cover for a shady position so long as it is not dry, spreading by its roots.

Propagation of Snake Root:

Seed - best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe in the summer. Stored seed will require 3 weeks cold stratification and should be sown in late winter. The seed usually germinates in the spring in 1 - 4 or more weeks at 18C. When large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in light shade in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out when large enough in late spring. Division in spring or autumn. Plants are slow to increase. It is best to pot the divisions up and keep them in light shade in the greenhouse until they are growing away strongly.

Cultivation of the herb:

Moist rich soils in woodlands, usually on calcareous soils. Understorey of deciduous (rarely coniferous) forests from sea level to 1300 metres.

Known hazards of Asarum canadense:

The leaves are poisonous. Handling the leaves is said to cause dermatitis in some people.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.