Asarabacca – planting, care and tips

Asarabacca (Asarum europaeum)
Asarabacca (Asarum europaeum)

Asarabacca is an easy-care ground cover with attractive foliage that is well suited for shady corners in the garden. This is how you plant and care for the forest shrub.

Profile of asarabacca:

Scientific name: Asarum europaeum

Plant family: birthwort family (Aristolochiaceae)

Other names: European wild ginger, hazelwort, wild spikenard

Sowing time: spring

Planting time: spring

Flowering period: March to April

Location: partially shaded to shady

Soil quality: sandy to loamy, calcipholous, moderately nutritious, humus rich

These information are for temperate climate!

Use in: ground cover, embankments, grave planting, group planting, underplanting, green area, apothecary garden, natural garden, park, forest garden

Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 5 (-26 °C / -15 °F)

Toxicity: toxic

Bee and insect friendly: No

Plant characteristics and classification of asarabacca

Plant order, origin and occurrence of asarabacca

The asarabacca (Asarum europaeum), also known as European wild ginger, hazelwort or wild spikenard, botanically belongs to the birthwort family (Aristolochiaceae) and is one of the most commonly cultivated species of this plant family. The perennial thrives on chalky, moist soils from the northern parts of Southern Europe to Siberia. It has been cultivated in England since the 13th century, among other things as a medicinal plant. However, asarabacca is classified as poisonous. Up until the 18th century, their dried rhizomes were therefore also used as emetics. The name “hazelwort”, on the other hand, refers to the observation that the plant often grows under hazelnut bushes.

Characteristics of asarabacca


The asarabacca is an evergreen, perennial herbaceous forest shrub with stalks that creep on the ground. It only gets about 10 to 15 centimeters (4 to 6 in) high. It is a slowly growing ground cover, but forms over time large colonies.


The long-stemmed leaves of asarabacca are leathery, kidney-shaped, glossy dark green and often tenderly reddish at the edge. The leaves, which remain dark green even during winter, give off a spicy peppery smell. The underside of the leaves is finely hairy. The leaves are 4 to 6 centimeters (1.6 to 2.4 in) long and 5 to 8 centimeters (2 to 3.2 in) wide.


From March to April, rather inconspicuous, simple, red-violet and bell-shaped flowers appear, most of which are hidden under the foliage of the asarabacca. The approximately 5 centimeters (2 in) long flowers also smell of pepper.


The 6-lobed capsule fruits are ripe in June and scatter their seeds until July and August.

Asarabacca – cultivation and care


The asarabacca needs a partially shaded to shady location.


The soil should be loose, calcareous, rich in humus and evenly moist.


You can plant the young asarabacca plants in spring, preferably from March to May, at a distance of 20 centimeters (8 in). Thoroughly loosen the soil beforehand and remove all weeds. Then put the perennials in and water them well. It takes one to two years for asarabaccas to enroot, but then proves to be absolutely robust and easy to care for.

Asarum europaeum grows rather slowly. Impatient people should therefore plant between 20 and 24 plants per square meter (10 sq ft) for a new planting: This immediately creates an appealing picture. Garden owners with a little more patience put 12 plants per square meter.

Care / Watering / Fertilization

Once established, the hardy asarabacca is very easy to care for and also tolerates occasional drought. Water the asarabacca when the top layer of the soil has dried out. You should also regularly fertilize the ground cover with leaf-humus.


You can divide the asarabacca in early spring at the beginning of growth and replant it in a different place in the garden.


The best method of propagation is division in spring. In theory, sowing is also possible, but even fresh seeds often take two years to germinate.

Diseases and pests

In early spring, snails can be a problem. Otherwise, hazelwort is relatively insensitive to diseases and pests.


Asarabacca is hardy down to -26 °C / -15 °F. If you like you can leave some foliage from the trees it grows under. This also serves as a fertilizer.

Use in the garden

The perennial is ideal for extensive underplanting of woody plants such as hedges, trees or shrubs. In addition, asarabaccais a good plant partner to fill in gaps between liverwort (Hepatica nobilis), woodruff (Galium odoratum), wild garlic (Allium ursinum), ferns and ornamental grasses. Asarabacca with its decorative foliage also comes into its own on rather shady embankments or borders in group plantings.

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