Sunday, February 06, 2011

Danish & Italian Ginger/Dansk & Italiensk Ingefær

Arum maculatum/Arum italicum
Arum maculatum = Arum cylandraceum 


Arum maculatum is a common woodland plant species of the Aracae family. It is widespread across temperate northern Europe and origins from Europe and the western Asia. It is known by common names including Wild arum, Lords and Ladies, Jack in the Pulpit, Devils and Angels, Cows and Bulls, Cuckoo-Pint, Adam and Eve, Bobbins, Naked Boys, Starch-Root and Wake Robin. Danish names include Aron's Staff, Deer berries, Calf Foot, the Devil's Berries and Wild Kalla. In Scandinavia the plant only grows in Denmark, except in North and West Jutland.

Maculatum means spottet and refers to the irregular brownish or violet spots on the green leaves of the Danish ginger. The Italicum originally comes from Italy. The Italian ginger has green leaves with white veins. The name ginger is due to that it gives a burning taste in the mouth if you taste a root or a leaf, like if you bite in the fresh spice ginger. The Danish name arum origins according to old sources from Aron, who might be the high-priest, mentioned in the fourth Pentateuch, the Numbers.

Folk Medicine
The plant was known from ancient times, where it was used as an expectorant means and as a laxative. In the Middle Ages it was used against the plague and abscesses and also against diseases in lungs and intestines. In the old herbal books is this ginger recommended for rheumatic illness and for treating wounds or bites from poisonous animals.

According to Plinius the bear eats the root after his winter-sleep to wake up the crumpled bowels.

Arum has a bulb-like rhizome, from which come long-stalked , arrow-shaped leaves. The leaves are vigorous and develop best in the shadow under trees. The leaves might be uniform green, covered in brown spots or white stripes. The flower-stalk is a 30-50 cm high shaft, which ends in a spadix, where the flower inflorescence is hidden in a large cone-shaped case-leave. After blooming the red, shining berries are developed.

If cultivated in a garden ginger thrives best in the "forest floor" of the garden, evt. among Bishop's Hat, Golden Death Nettle, Sweet Grass etc. Recommended sorts: Arum maculatum ssp. danicum (Danish ginger); Arum italicum (Italian ginger) and Arum pictum (Corsican ginger).

Other Informations:
The shining red berries were once used as a rouge, but they can give blisters.
NB: The ginger mentioned here has nothing in common with the exotic spice of the same name. The dried root is eatable since the poisonous substances disappear in the drying process. The root is rich in starch and was among other things used as a face powder. The plant is cultivated in gardens for the decorative value of the fine red berries. Warning: The red berries are tempting to children, but they are very poisonous.

General warning: Although it is said that the dried root is eatable, then there are warnings against the plant in other sources saying: No  parts of the plant can be used as a replacement for the spice ginger, since they are very poisonous. But the roots might have a scent like the ginger spice.

Last news about the plant:
There are various informations about the plant and a new scientific name.  But as said before the plant with the name Danish ginger has nothing in common with the spice ginger, except the confusing name-community. The official Danish name is now Danish arum, and the scientific name is Arum cylindraceum. It was earlier known as Arum alpinum ssp. danicum. Danish ginger is poisonous, and the pretty berries might be tempting for small children, but this plant smells a little like urine, which might be not so tempting. Danish ginger is much alike Italian ginger Arum italicum, which is known on the light stripes on the leaves. This plant is also poisonous.

Allergy and Rodents:
All parts of the plant can produce allergic reactions in many people and the plant should be handled with care. Many small rodents appear to find the spadix particularly attractive and it is common to find examples of the plant with much of the spadix eaten away. The spadix produces heat and probably scent as the flowers mature and it may be this that attracts the rodents.

Arum maculatum is also known as the cuckoo print in the British Isles and is named thus in Nicholas Culpepers' famous 16th Century herbal. This is a name it shares with  Arum italicum (Italian Lords-and-Ladies) - the other native British Arum.

Source: Anemette Olesen, Danske Klosterurter, 2001

photo: august 2006 & 2010: grethe bachmann


Teresa Evangeline said...

It would be interesting to know how its presence and its poisonous attributes contribute to nature, as everything does have its place and purpose. Interesting post. Thank you, Grethe!

Thyra said...

It's a very mysterious plant. I have only seen it in two places in the wild.