Canadian Wild Ginger
The root of this species has a pleasant gingery taste. Incongruously,
Lewis reported that a specimen of this plant "was taken the 1st of June at the mouth of the Osage river; it is known in this country by the name of the wild ginger, it resembles that plant somewhat in both taste and effect; it is a strong stomatic stimelent, and frequently used in sperits with bitter herbs– it is common throughout the rich lands in the Western country." He shipped the specimen back east from Fort Mandan in April of 1805 as item No. 10 in his inventory of plants collected on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. His list included "such observations on the vegitable kingdom spread to our view in this rich country as they have occurred to my mind.– or as the several subjects have presented themselves to my view."1 The shipment was received by John Vaughan at the American Philosophical Society in November 1805 and forwarded to Benjamin Smith Barton for study. Sometime between 1805 and 1807 this specimen, along with all of those numbered 1 through 30 by Lewis, disappeared. Frederick Pursh, who examined Lewis's plants, apparently never saw any of those, and the only record is what appears in Lewis's list. Even so, in the 1980s one of the labels came to light at a Philadelphia flea market when it was sold as a Lewis autograph. Perhaps those first thirty plant specimens from the Lewis and Clark expedition still exist in some unknown attic or basement.
Wild ginger is occasionally sold as a medicinal plant even today, although its use for any illness is questionable, and its long-term use is dangerous.
1. Moulton, Journals, 3:451, 453.
2. Daniel Moerman, Native American Ethnobotany (Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 1998), 105-06.
Funded in part by a grant from the NPS Challenge-Cost Share Program.