Herbs for Labor V: Wild Ginger

We are again blessed by the wise words of Susun Weed, an American herbalist well-known for her teachings in the “Wise Woman Way” of herbalism. In this edition of her series “Herbs for Labor” written for Birth Institute, Susun Weed shares with us the gifts and the mysteries of wild ginger, a multifaceted herb that has been used for labor and birth throughout the ages, and is prized by many midwives and herbalists who use it for a variety of symptoms today.

Here we are again, reweaving the Healing Cloak of the Ancients, spinning in each other’s orbits, spiraling through space, remembering the old wives’ tales, and reinventing ourselves as women of power. Remembering the Wise Woman Way, the way of wholeness. Reclaiming herbal medicine as people’s medicine.

There are so many herbs to assist us during labor, should they be needed. So far we have spent time with blue cohosh, black cohosh, catnip, skullcap, motherwort, and liferoot. Who shall we visit today? Nettle? Raspberry? I know! Let’s go meet wild ginger.

Wild ginger is loved by some as an aid to labor, but not widely used. Perhaps because science says its contains nephrotoxic aristolochic acid and various carcinogens. Perhaps because it is assumed that it is a wild form of the regular ginger, which it is not.

We’ll take the trail toward the river. Wild ginger likes moist, shady spots. Found throughout the temperate regions of the world, from Asia through North America, wild ginger is used as medicine and seasoning everywhere it grows. The Cherokee consider the root to be a powerful stimulant, able to bring on a late period, perhaps even end an early pregnancy; but they don’t mention using it during labor.

It is wild ginger’s antispasmodic, antiseptic, diuretic, febrifuge, and tonic qualities that most people focus on. Daniel Moerman reports native peoples using wild ginger root tea as an aid to those with headaches, fevers, colds, intestinal pain, stomach pain, colic, loss of appetite, coughs, bad blood, colds, breathing problems, earache, asthma, urinary disorders, and venereal diseases.

Wild ginger is definitely a plant of many guises for the midwife. The use of wild ginger tea as an anticonvulsant for infants was widespread among natives, who also used the tea as a wash for swollen breasts. A brew of the leaves and blossoms acts as a sedative for those who are hysterical. To make any medicine stronger, and help focus the actions of other herbs, add wild ginger. Wash the hands, or a wound, in strong wild ginger tea to disinfect them.

The Iroquois gave wild ginger root tea to “babies who cry until they hold their breath.”  The Okanagons mixed wild ginger leaves with sphagnum moss and used it as bedding for their infants. The Yoruk used wild ginger leaves as a poultice/dressing to keep the newborn’s navel free of infection.

Look, there it is. What a classic plant for teaching plant language and the doctrine of signatures. The leaves are “heart” shaped. But the heart is not shaped like what we draw as a “heart.” The traditional heart shape is really the shape of the yoni, the shape of the pelvis. Plants with heart-shaped leaves have strong effects in the pelvic area. (Senecio aureus and violets are other women’s plants that have heart shaped leaves.)

The flowers are red. Red is the color of the root chakra. Red is the color of the uterus, of fertility and fecundity. Red is the color of energy, of fire, of movement, of birth, of blood.

The flowers bloom on the ground, not in the air; they lay on the earth instead of turning to the sky. Women and their vaginas are of the earth. And birth is of the earth.

Wild ginger grows near running water, thus capturing the energy of flowing and opening and giving birth.

In Southern Germany I visited a very ancient cave, a winter residence for bears and humans over 10,000 years ago. We approached through woodlands where wild ginger spread out in waves to either side of us, shining in the dim light of the forest. Slick plants, like slick people, are often poisonous.

Did you know its name, Asarum, comes from the Latin asa, meaning altar or sanctuary? Isn’t that lovely?

Let us sit for a while listening to the song of the stream, singing with the wild ginger, and letting her leaves shine into us. Then we will carefully harvest some of her roots, rhizomes, really, and take them home to tincture them.

One midwife, who loves wild ginger and carries it with her always, was upset with me when I suggested that we stop using wild ginger due to the carcinogens and kidney toxins it contains. She said, that using wild ginger tincture once or twice or even thrice during a woman’s life (that is, at one or more births, but not in between) would not have any damaging effects. I must agree. She uses 5 drops every five minutes for up to an hour to get a stalled labor going again.

Is wild ginger an ally for you? Sit a while and sing with her. Only time will tell. Green blessings are everywhere.

Susun Weed has appeared on numerous national radio, television, and new-media venues, including National Public Radio, NBC News, CNN, and ABCNews.com. She has been quoted and interviewed in many major magazines, including Natural Health, Woman’s Day, First for Women, and Herbs for Health. She is a contributor to the Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women’s Studies, and writes a regular column in Sagewoman and for Awakened Woman online.

Image Source: Susun Weed