861 Zingiber officinaleCommon Names: ginger, common ginger, cooking ginger, Canton ginger, Chinese ginger Family: Zingiberaceae (ginger Family)
The common cooking ginger is an herbaceous perennial with upright stems and narrow medium green leaves arranged in two ranks on each stem. The plant gets about 4 ft (1.2 m) tall with leaves about 3/4 in (1.9 cm) wide and 7 (17.8 cm) long. Ginger grows from an aromatic tuberlike rhizome (underground stem) which is warty and branched. The inflorescence grows on a separate stem from the foliage stem, and forms a dense spike, to 3 in (7.6 cm) tall. The bracts are green with translucent margins and the small flowers are yellow green with purple lips and cream colored blotches. Most gingers in cultivation are sterile cultivars grown for the edible rhizome, and the flower is rarely seen.
There is a cultivar of Zingiber officinale known as 'Sunti', which comes from Java and is similar to the common cooking ginger, but forms smaller rhizomes. It is used in the same way as common ginger but is said to have better medicinal qualities.
The common cooking ginger originated in tropical Asia, but is now grown as a commercial crop for the ginger root in Latin America and Africa as well as South East Asia. Fifty percent of worldwide ginger production is in India. The best quality ginger comes from Jamaica.
CultureGinger is often grown in a container and brought indoors in winter when water and light are reduced and the plant is allowed to "rest." Common cooking gingers are rarely found in garden centers as potted plants because they do not have much ornamental value. Light: Part sun. Moisture: Regular moisture in well-drained soil Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 12. Propagation: Common ginger grows from thick fleshy underground stems called "rhizomes." It is easy to grow the plant from pieces of ginger root from the grocery store as long as they are fresh and firm - not dried out. Make sure each piece of the rhizome has two or more growth nodes, like the "eyes" of a potato. Plant the rhizome pieces about an inch below the surface in a sandy loam or clay soil that has been improved with leaf mold or well-composted manure.
The common cooking ginger does not have much value as an ornamental plant. The blooms are rarely seen, and are not showy and conspicuous as they are in its close relative, shampoo ginger (Zingiber zerumbet).
Ginger root is widely used around the world as a spice or food additive. Ginger is fried and eaten plain, and used in curry pastes and other sauces in India; it is grilled and used to flavor fish and meats or for making ginger tea in Indonesia; it is boiled or fried in Chinese cookery; used to baste chicken or eaten as pickled ginger (beni shoga) and served with sushi in Japan; and used in Jamaica to make Jamaican jerk paste. A ginger extract with carbonated water makes the popular drink we call ginger ale. Ginger was used in the Middle Ages in Europe to flavor beer.
Ginger has been used in Asia for thousands of years for relief from arthritis, rheumatism, sprains, muscular aches and pains, catarrh, congestion, coughs, sinusitis, sore throats, diarrhea, colic, cramps, indigestion, loss of appetite, motion sickness, fever, flu, chills, and infectious disease.
The Lancet, a highly respected British medical journal, reported excellent results in scientific tests using ginger to treat nausea: "The powdered rhizome of Zingiber officinale has been found to be more effective than dimenhydrinate (Dramamine®) in reducing motion sickness in individuals highly susceptible to this malady (Mowrey and Clayson, The Lancet, 1982)." Other reports from medical research indicate that ginger is effective in reducing the effects of morning sickness in pregnant women.
The Latin name Zingiber is derived from the Sanskrit word, shringavera, which means "shaped like a deer's antlers." The word ginger evolved in English from the Latin zingiber as "gingifer" and "gingivere."
Dave Skinner 11/17/00; updated 11/5/03