By William T. Hathaway


The Heartleaf or Wild ginger (Hexastylis virginicum) was classified as Asarum virginicum and called “coltsfoot” by older botanists. It is a perennial, stemless herb found in loamy soils, especially on woodland slopes.

Several dark brownish-red flowers are produced just above the ground at the base of long leaf stems which are terminated by heart-shaped mottled leaves. These leathery leaves lie mostly flat on the forest floor or beneath fallen tree leaves. In winter months after winds have scattered leaf litter the evergreen leaves of the heartleaf are less hidden.

Its creeping, aromatically pungent rootstocks were believed to have been used as a substitute for ginger during Civil War days. Many of our older area farmers refer to the bowl-shaped flowers of this plant as “little-brown-jugs.”