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The 70 or so species making up this genus are mainly evergreen, low-growing, and rhizomatous woodland perennials from Europe, East Asia, and North America. They are grown for their heart-shaped or kidney-shaped, glossy, sometimes marbled leaves that conceal unusual-looking pitcher-shaped flowers that are malodorous. Asarum make nice groundcovers or woodland garden plants. Their rhizomes are aromatic.
There are 60-70 species of woodland perennials in the genus Asarum. These great foliage plants in the family Aristolochiaceae make excellent ground covers for shady sites. Their leaves vary considerably in texture, colors of green and patterning. They all need rich organic soil with plenty of moisture to thrive. Under favorable conditions they spread quickly and vigorously.Asarum canadense, wild ginger, is found throughout the eastern half of the United States. It grows in rich mesic soils in shady deciduous forests. Many a hiker has walked past the large colonies of this early spring wildflower not realizing that it has an interesting and peculiar flower underneath the canopy of its heart-shaped leaves. The plants are softly pubescent especially the leaf petiole and the flower. Wild ginger’s flower is located at the base of the plant lying adjacent to the ground. The flowers are bell shaped with three acuminate-reflexed tips. The flower is brownish purple inside. Some folks liken the flower to a little knocked over jug on the ground.
Species of Asarum are used in traditional Chinese medicine and, similar to members of the genus Aristolochia, they contain aristolochic acid analogs (AAAs). These compounds are known for their nephrotoxic and carcinogenic effects. So far, the phytochemistry and nephrotoxicity of species of Asarum is not well studied. A high-resolution LC-MS-based metabolomic approach was used to study the phytochemical variation in medicinally used Asarum species. The cytotoxicity of the samples was assessed using human kidney (HK-2) cells. The majority of samples contained potentially nephrotoxic AAAs, including 9-methoxy aristolactam (AL) IV, AL I, and AL IV. These compounds were present in methanol as well as water extracts. AAAs were detected in all parts of the plant. The majority of the extracts were not cytotoxic to HK-2 cells at the doses tested. However, other mechanisms relating to aristolochic acid nephropathy and cancer development, such as DNA adduct formation may occur. The results of this study provide a model for assessing lesser-known plant species for toxicity. (Source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)