Aristolochiaceae / Birthwort
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Lore: Native Americans used the root to flavor foods much as real ginger is used (This plant is not related to the ginger you can find in the produce department of your local grocery). In addition it was thought to protect those who ate spoiled meat or food that might be poisoned or have some sort of a spell cast on it from the types of sickness one might expect from eating such food. The accounts of it being used to prevent sickness from eating questionable meat are so numerous as to give the use some credence.
Medical Uses: It was used for many medical purposes including the treatment of digestive disorders, especially gas, and in a poultice on sores. The dried powered leaves were used to promote sneezing. You will find mention in Medicinal and other uses of North American Plants of its being used in large quantities to produce abortion. Often it was used to promote sweating, reduce fever and for coughs and sore throats. Many of these uses may be somewhat valid as the plant has been shown to have certain antimicrobial properties.
The book Field Guide to Medicinal Plants, Eastern and Central North America states that Wild Ginger contains the antitumor compound aristolochic acid. In Magic and Medicine of Plants it states that studies show the plant may cause cancer.
Similar Species: Littlebrownjug,
Hexastylis arifolia is very similar. It's flowers are longer and the tip of the sepals are not elongated.
Largeflower Heartleaf, Hexastylis shuttleworthii has relatively large flowers without the elongated tips.
One of the best general guides to wildflowers of the North Eastern and North Central United States. Newcomb's key is an excellent, simple method for identifying plants. Newcomb has drawings for almost every plant mentioned that are excellent aids to identifying the species. Though only the more common plants are covered this is often the first book I pick up when trying to identify a wildflower.
This is perhaps the best of many field guides covering this region. Featuring 446 excellent color photographs (located with the text) and mentioning as similar to those illustrated are another 800 or so species for a total coverage of over 1,200 species. The start of each family section includes line drawings of some of the species showing important features. The text includes the usual description, bloom season, range, habitat and additionally includes information such as medical uses and lore and how the species was named. This is the official field guide of the Tennessee Native Plant Society.
Angiosperms / Flowering Plants
Dicots / Two Seed Leaves