Author Topic: Hexastylis/Asarum hybrids and breeding  (Read 345 times)

Garrett Schantz

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Hexastylis/Asarum hybrids and breeding
« on: 2020-11-12, 06:36:32 PM »
I hadn't really looked into "Wild Ginger" that much until a few days ago. Seems to have a useable medicinal root - apparently somewhat toxic in large doses. Asarum canadense is pollinated by beetles, flies, and ants. Seems to self pollinate as well - the flower isn't really of much appeal though considering its towards the base. Also a perennial down to zone 4, which is nice.

 So yeah a pretty much a small green hosta without the flowers. Which is what I thought at first - then I started looking for related species in the genus. Seems like they can form fertile hybrids together. And the "related species" themselves have some nice qualities. Mainly natural variegations, and apparently similar cold hardiness.
Google images shows Asarum virginicum having a dark green - almost black leaf with some white variegation. Hexastylis arifolia seems similar as well. "Hexastylis or heartleaf is a segregate of the genus Asarum"
 Older canadense stands appear to grow a bit taller so it could be more comparable to a hosta later in life. Hybrids might lead to roots with less toxicity if bred correctly as well. Which could result in a viable ginger substitute.

 Normally I wouldn't mention or bring up something with almost no practical uses, but the way the flower is pollinated was of interest to me. I don't hear too much about beetle, flies or ants as pollinators for really anything for the most part. Some of these insects may be predators - or pests in gardens depending on the species. Being a genus native to North America, it would probably be beneficial to have around just for the native insects. It would be rather interesting to see if any insects that are attracted would attempt pollinating some of the more "odd" tomato flowers as well.

 Anyone have experience with this genus?

Johann Kuntz

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Re: Hexastylis/Asarum hybrids and breeding
« Reply #1 on: 2021-03-22, 12:03:15 AM »
Interesting.  I live within the natural range of the very similar Asarum caudatum here on the west coast.  Even without any hybridization it is gorgeous with it's deep green heart shaped leaves.  From my research it has use for covering off flavors in meat (probably when it's losing freshness).  Given it's long history of use as an occasional food additive, I feel that it would be ethical to consider it still safe for occasional use even without any breeding for "reduced toxicity".  As Samuel Thayer points out in his description of the sassafras toxicity controversy in his book "Incredible Wild Edibles", half of all known natural chemicals are "proven to be toxic" when tested under scientific conditions with high does being fed consistently over extended periods of time to small mammals... (I'm paraphrasing his words of course).
« Last Edit: 2021-03-22, 12:05:27 AM by Johann Kuntz »

Ferdzy

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Re: Hexastylis/Asarum hybrids and breeding
« Reply #2 on: 2021-03-22, 09:31:12 AM »
When I was a teenager I was a big reader of Euell Gibbons, and under his influence I made candied wild ginger root. It doesn't taste as good as real ginger, lacking both the floral notes and much of a bite, but it was pleasant and I ate a fairly ridiculous amount without apparent ill effects. Like a lot of native plants it spreads, but very slowly. It surely isn't invasive, meaning you would also have to develop some pretty robust versions to allow for usage and replacement.

Diane Whitehead

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Re: Hexastylis/Asarum hybrids and breeding
« Reply #3 on: 2021-03-22, 03:55:03 PM »
Asarum caudatum was used by many of the British Columbia First Nations:

Nuxalk - tea for stomach pains, and a poultice for headaches, intestinal pains and knee pains
Sechelt - boiled the leaves and put on arthritic limbs
Squamish and Skagit - chewed the leaves and swallowed the juice for TB
Skokomish - used tea as an emetic or to settle the stomach
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
cool mediterranean climate  warm dry summers, mild wet winters,  70 cm rain,   sandy soil