Wild ginger is an easy to grow native plant that can add nice texture to a shade garden of larger plants. It is naturally found in moist rich woodlands from Georgia north to the Great Lakes and New England. In Maine it can be difficult to find growing wild but there are many spots where it prospers.
North American wild ginger is not to be confused with the ginger we use for cooking. Though it is edible the taste is pungent and its primary use in the past was medicinal. Native Americans used it for a variety of ailments and early settlers, seeing its kidney shaped leaves assumed it was useful for kidney diseases. Unlike many plants that were used for medicine back then, it has no medicinal or culinary purpose today.
Wild ginger has beautiful heart shaped leaves and grows to about 6 to 8 inches tall. Each rhizome produces a pair of leaves and in early spring a small reddish brown flower opens at the base of the leaves right at ground level. The flowers are often hidden beneath the leaves and may even be covered with mulch. The 1/2 inch flower self pollinates. Ginger will spread slowly to form a nice mat, planted about a foot apart, plants will fill out to form an attractive shade ground cover.
Ginger likes being in the shade and needs rich, humus, moist soil. Though it can tolerate more sunlight than other shade lovers, it does not tolerate getting dried out. It looks great when planted with taller shade plants like bleeding heart, maidenhair fern, and mayapple.