Edible ginger (Zingiber officinale) has been used for culinary and medicinal purposes for centuries. This is confirmed by the species name "officinale," which has often described plants that are part of the herbal pharmacopia. The useful part of the ginger plant is the root, which is really a rhizome or fleshy underground stem. Now cultivated commercially in many countries in the East and West, ginger is related to such other "warm" spices as cardamom and turmeric.
Ginger is native to southeast Asia. Arab traders probably introduced it to ancient Greece and Rome. The Romans, in turn, took it with them to Britain (and probably other parts of the Roman Empire). Famed herbalists John Gerard and Nicholas Culpeper both mentioned ginger in the 17th century.
Because ginger is native to warm, tropical countries, it must be grown in a greenhouse or conservatory in areas with cold winters. To grow a ginger plant, purchase a root from the supermarket, place in a pot and cover with moist potting mix. Keep well watered until green shoots appear. The somewhat grassy leaves can be as tall as 39 inches. The plants often do not flower well when raised in the home, but if flower spikes appear, they will be covered with small yellow blossoms that have distinctive purple lips. Though the plant may be an interesting specimen, it is unlikely to produce a root suitable for culinary use.
Dried, ground ginger root is a traditional remedy for motion sickness and other gastrointestinal complaints.
Fresh sliced or grated ginger root is a frequent ingredient in many Asian cuisines. Candied or preserved in syrup, it is served as a confection or ingredient in desserts. The dried, ground root is used to flavor all kinds of dishes. Ginger is also the main flavor ingredient of ginger ale and ginger beer.
Edible ginger (Zingiber officinale) should not be confused with fellow Zingiberaceae family member, ornamental ginger (Hedychium, especially Hedychium coronarium). These gingers are grown primarily for their flowers.