Gingers are among the most fascinating, diverse and important tropical plants humanity cultivates. The family of plants include medicinally, culinarily and ornamentally useful plants. The gingers include the familiar Zingibers, Curcumas, Globbas, Kaempferias, Burbidgea and Hedychium. More common in culinary use are Afromomum, Amomum and Boesenbergia, at least in our part the world. Other ginger plants are the more obscure Etlingera, Renealmia and Hornstedtia, as well as over fifty other genera of gingers. Many new species and genera are found and cataloged every year. To be clear, the descriptors I use in this article are not meant to put gingers in a shoebox. Rather, I hope to illustrate the versatility of the family of plants known as Zingiberaceae.
HOW IS GINGER USED MEDICINALLY
Medicinally, gingers have been used in treating many ailments. Most commonly ginger is used to settle stomach unease. You will find almost no commercial aircraft without ginger ale in the drinks cart. If you are feeling a bit queasy on an airplane ask the flight attendant for a ginger ale and it will help calm down an upset stomach. Better yet, buy some candy ginger drops and keep them on hand just in case. Curcumin and turmeric from Curcuma longa have been observed to have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5664031/). Kaempferia parviflora has also been shown to exhibit possible activity against cervical cancer (https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2017.00630/full)
HOW IS GINGER USED IN COOKING
In the kitchen, ginger is an important spice. It is found in the cookies, candy, drinks and savory dishes in North America and it is important in the cuisines of many Asian countries. Obviously Zingiber officinale is the first to come to mind when thinking of using ginger in the kitchen. But Cardamom is also an important spice the world over. Depending on the source it may derive from the seeds of Elettaria or Amomum. The pungent, fruity Guinea grains or Melegueta pepper is made from the seed of Aframomum melegueta. The leaves and rhizome of Kaempferia galangal are used in Malaysian and Balinese cuisine to add a peppery zing to local soups and dishes.
ORNAMENTAL GINGER IN YOUR GARDEN
Ornamentally, there are gingers for just about every taste. They run the gamut from short plants with attractive leaf patterns to enormous wide and tall architectural specimens. Low growing Kaempferias with wildly patterned leaves make great plants for ground effect. Wide fat paddle leaves hug the ground and produce delicate blooms. There are even some upright Kaempferias. Globbas, also known as Dancing Lady Gingers delight with colorful bracts and impossibly graceful flowers resembling a fanciful ballerina. Towering tropical Hornstetia produces bizarre basal blooms. Equally bizarre basal blooms are evident in Zingibers. Appearing, to me anyway, like maracas the inflorescence of Zingibers typically sprouts from the ground and comes in a variety of sizes and wild colors. All over the US South, Alpinia zerumbet is ubiquitous in gardens and offers tropical flavor in subtropical conditions. Curcumas come in variety of forms. Some produce their inflorescence amid wide leaves leading them to be dubbed hidden lilies, whereas others hold the flowers high and resemble a kind tropical tulip.
Most ginger flowers emit no scent, but don’t despair. Hedychiums come to the rescue and provide tropical foliage and spicy fragrance. Interestingly, give a squeeze the to pine cone inflorescence of Zingiber zerumbet also known as Awapuhi and inhale the spicy scented water that exudes from the bracts.
HOW TO GROW ORNAMENTAL GINGER
Ginger is easy to grow. Many gingers exhibit an active growth season followed by a dormancy period in sync with the rainy and dry seasons of their native habitat in the southern hemisphere. For us in the northern hemisphere, this happily coincides with our spring/summer and fall/winter seasons. Gingers with a dormancy period will wither in the late fall and winter and return in late spring. Be very careful that you do not maintain dormant ginger in wet conditions or they will rot. You can go so far as to dig up the rhizomes and replant them in the spring when soil temperatures are consistently above 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Like any plant you must consider the environment to which it is native. Some ginger will not go dormant and must kept at temperatures above freezing whereas others may suffer below 65 degrees. Researching the plant before you buy will ensure success.
I cannot stress enough that what is written here is only scratching the surface of a vast trove of knowledge on Zingiberaceae. They are a rewarding plant for you garden whether you grow them for food or for their beauty. Zone 9 Tropicals offers a variety of ginger plants for you garden.