Snake Root (Asarum canadense)

Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Snake Root
Asarum canadense
Aristolochiaceae

The slightly roasted root can be ground into a powder and then sprinkled onto clothing for perfume[257].

A useful ground cover for a shady position so long as it is not dry[197], spreading by its roots[208].

  • Medicinal Use

    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[257]. It is still occasionally used in modern herbalism.

    The root is anthelmintic, carminative, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, irritant, powerfully stimulant, stomachic and tonic[4, 21, 46, 200, 238, 257]. It is harvested in the autumn and dried for later use[4]. 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[4, 257]. The fresh leaves are applied as a poultice to wounds and inflammations, whilst a decoction or salve is applied to sores[257].

    The root contains antibiotic substances effective against broad-spectrum bacteria and fungi[207]. It also contains aristolochic acid, which has antitumor activity[222].

    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[213].

  • Edible Use

    The underground stem and the flowers are used as a ginger substitute[2, 55, 106, 177, 183]. The root, especially when quite dry, has a pungent, aromatic smell like mild pepper and ginger mixed, but more strongly aromatic[245]. The root is best harvested in autumn but is available all year round[159]. It can be dried for later use[159].

  • Cautionary Notes

    The leaves are poisonous[19]. Handling the leaves is said to cause dermatitis in some people[269].

Cultivation & Habitat

Seed – best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe in the summer[134]. Stored seed will require 3 weeks cold stratification and should be sown in late winter[134]. The seed usually germinates in the spring in 1 – 4 or more weeks at 18¡c[134]. 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[200]. It is best to pot the divisions up and keep them in light shade in the greenhouse until they are growing away strongly.
Prefers a rich moist neutral to acid soil in woodland or a shady position in the rock garden[1, 200]. Plants are found on alkaline soils in the wild[43]. Plants are hardy to at least -25¡c[200]. The flowers are malodorous and are pollinated by flies[200]. Plants often self-sow when growing in a suitable position[200].
Eastern N. America – Manitoba to New Brunswick, south to N. Carolina and Kansas.

Become ungovernable, break the chains of the matrix; grow and forage your own food and medicine.

*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.