Ginger is a familiar kitchen pantry spice. Its tangy and distinctive taste has lent its flavor and name to culinary classics like gingerbread and ginger snaps. Derived from the ginger root it is used to flavor beverages and ethnic dishes, such as Indian chicken curry. For centuries it has been prized as an herbal cure for a variety of ailments and even today, according to the American Cancer Society, it is being studied as a possible cure to stop the growth of tumors.
Ginger is a tropical plant whose root is used as a spice. The spice is commonly used in baking or to flavor beverages. The ginger root comes from the underground stem system or rhizome of the ginger plant. Tall stems, with long narrow leaves, grow from the ginger plant's knotty, root bearing rhizome. Cone-shaped flowers grow from stems on the plants. The petals appear to stack one atop of another, giving the blossom its height. Flowers come in an array of colors, including white, yellow and blue.
Ginger gives gingerbread its distinct taste. It is also used to flavor ginger ale, ginger beer and ginger tea. It is a common spice used in baking breads, cakes, pies and other baked goods, and can be used to season meats and vegetables. Ginger is a common spice for seasoning Asian food. Oil of ginger is used in some alternate medicines and in making perfume.
There are four main types of ginger spice; black, white, dried and preserved. Black ginger is made by scalding the root with water and then drying. The outer layers of the rhizome are peeled off before the root is washed and dried, to make white ginger. To make dried ginger the rhizome is simply washed and dried. In preserved ginger the rhizome is peeled and then boiled in syrup.
For over 2,000 years ginger root has been used to treat upset stomachs, nausea and diarrhea. Patients undergoing cancer chemotherapy, pregnant women suffering from morning sickness or those with motion sickness can take advantage of ginger's ability to treat nausea by drinking some ginger tea. Ginger helps to decrease inflammation which makes it an alternate medication in treating arthritis and ulcerative colitis. It is also used to help treat colic, heart conditions, headaches and painful menstrual periods.
The ginger plant grows throughout the West Indies, South America, Asia, Japan and West Africa. Most preserved ginger comes from China, and the finest ginger is typically grown in Jamaica and India. Wild ginger grows in wooded areas of the Northern United States. Wild ginger is not related to the ginger plant, yet like the ginger plant, its root is used as a spice.
Over 2,000 years ago ginger root was used medicinally by the Chinese. The ancient Romans prized ginger for its therapeutic qualities. After the fall of the Roman Empire ginger fell into obscurity and went unnoticed until the explorer, Marco Polo, reintroduced ginger to Europe in the 1300's. In the 1500's the Spanish raised ginger on plantations in Jamaica. England's Queen Elisabeth I invented the gingerbread man, which became a classic holiday treat.