Roots to Swoon For: Bear’s Claw and Wild Ginger

Is it absurd that I get so excited about a box of fresh roots that I can’t even get from the truck to the cabin without opening the package and that I don’t even want to eat until I fully explore, taste and admire each plant bit? If it is, I am a deeply absurd woman.

An apprentice and friend sent me the most lovely package of Bear’s Claw and Wild Ginger. It was so sweetly packed, the bundles of roots carefully wrapped in moist paper towels then sealed in plastic and accompanied by a poetic account of her journey into the mountains to find the plants. Somehow the package took a miraculous WEEK from the NW to the SW via priority mail. I think there’s a strange faery warp somewhere between there and here. Nevertheless, the roots smelled and looked freshly unearthed — fragrant, gorgeous and yummy.

Bear’s Claw, Oplopanax horridum, smells like earth and bacteria eaten trees and leaves and sex and a wet, rainy night. The whole plant gives me shivers. Not many non-local plants get me very excited but this one is a distinct exception. I could give you a list of all the things the plant is good for, but the truth is that Bear’s Claw just makes me feel ~good~ all dreamy and satisfied and rooted. Bear Medicine at its best, along with Osha and Burdock. Totally different plants, but they all give me a similar feeling and sense of well being, and they all have that deep, dark root connection to the underworld and dreamtime.

A primary use for this plant is for type 2 diabetes, pre-diabetes symptoms and other blood sugar woes. Although there are reports of Bear’s Claw as a hypoglycemic, I found that using it in moderation can actually help prevent and treat hypoglycemia. It seems to me that glucose and insulin are not very well understood by the scientific community at this time, so traditional uses and personal experiences very much flavor my perceptions of related treatment. So far, I’ve found Bear’s Claw to be really great for the afternoon blood sugar blues many people are prone to. You know, that brain fog so deep you can’t find the door accompanied by shaking, dizziness and relentless nausea? Of course, cutting down carbs, remineralizing and exercise are the only real and lasting treatment of most forms of insulin troubles but this is a nice plant to help rebalance during a lifestyle adjustment.

I’m a little concerned about the growing popularity of this NW & Alaska native with the media lately. And I’ve read several reports of herbal companies in China being interested in scooping up lots of traditional Alaskan medicines for mass resale. Being a ginseng relative at all, I can see Bear’s Claw becoming one of those overblown fad herbs all pumped up by ignorant health industry CEOs. So if you use this plant, use it respectfully and moderately. Also, try to get it from the actual human being doing the harvesting so you can be more sure of ecological ethics involved. I guess I would say that about any plant but especially those endemic to certain ecosystems. Oh, and remember that you can use the stem bark as well as the roots so as to better utilize a smaller amount of plant.

My previous warning applies equally to Wild Ginger, Asarum caudatum, a deep forest denizen of the northern Rocky Mountains and the NW. In many areas, the old growth rainforest this plant favors is being dramatically reduced by development and increasingly prevalent and hot fires. Some wildcrafters suggest picking no more than one in twenty plants, being sure not leave a visible impact on the community. I understand that its eastern relative, Asarum canadense, is more common so it might be wise to purchase from wildcrafters from that area. Though I haven’t used this species, I’ve heard they have similar properties.

Wild Ginger can make you hot and sweaty!  It also moves blood, and quickly, helping to bring on delayed menses in an efficient manner. I use it in a very similar way to the commonly available European Ginger root, but have an extra love for the peppery undertone of this American native. Anytime I need to warm up a formula, or get someone’s blood moving, this is an excellent choice. I spend a lot of time just smelling the dried root or tincture. There’s something truly comforting about this sweet little plant that a little like a warm, hearth loving grandma from the old days. Pungent, warm goodness.

Ok, I have to go play with my roots now ;)

3 Comments

  1. shamana flora
    Nov 6, 2007

    oh how fun! new plants to play with.
    It is intersting t ohear that yo uhave had some success with blood sugar and bears claw. we’ve talked about this in class and there didn’t seem to be any NATIVE use of the plant that way. ( doesn’t mean it doesn’t work) but it was always considered big sacred medicine!

  2. Cindy
    Nov 7, 2007

    Oh! Oh! More about the wild ginger!

    I always dig that when we head to the bush, keep it in my pocket and smell it over and over! I thought I had a problem!

    Do you dry it? Just keep it moist until you use it? I wish I could capture the fragrance somehow.

    Blessings,

    Cindy

  3. Kiva Rose
    Nov 7, 2007

    Darcey, Ryan Drum seems to imply otherwise: “Strong tea (infusion or more often, decoction) is consumed a pint or two per day to relieve symptoms of adult onset diabetes. Seemingly miraculous cures were obtained by indigenous coastal individuals methodically self-medicating with Oplopanax tea.”

    And clinically, people as varied as Ryan Drum, Sharol Tilgner and Michael Moore have used it and recommended it for that use.

    However, I haven’t done enough ethnobotanical research to give you a direct quote, most of my ethnobotanical texts are SW-centric.

    Cindy, I do dry the Wild Ginger for tea and that works nicely. I also make a strong tincture which is amazing, it’s great chopped and preserved in honey. And I haven’t tried it yet but I imagine it would make a lovely warming, antibacterial oil. I will write more about the Wild Ginger soon, so glad you enjoyed the post!

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