Common ginger or cooking ginger (Zingiber officinale) is native to Asia but is cultivated worldwide for its aromatic rhizomes. Ginger root contains volatile oils, such as zingerone and gingerol, that give it its distinctive smell and flavor. While the common ginger plant is not a spectacular garden species, it is low-maintenance and will yield a good crop of rhizomes if grown in the correct conditions. Cultivated varieties rarely produce flowers.
The perennial ginger plants grow up to 4 feet high with alternate, thin, green leaves up to 7 inches long borne on erect pseudostems actually made up of tightly rolled leaf stems. These pseudostems grow up from a fleshy, underground rhizome that can be a foot long with multiple rounded branches. The rhizome is a dull gold color with a pale yellow interior. Ginger flowerheads, borne on separate stems, are green and cone-shaped with small, greenish-yellow flowers tipped with purple.
Range and Habitat
Common ginger is native to tropical, lowland forests in Asia and probably originated in India. It is now cultivated across the tropical and subtropical world, with India producing half the world's supply of rhizomes---420,000 tons in 2008. Large ginger crops are also produced in China, Indonesia and Jamaica.
Plant ginger rhizomes an inch deep in a rich compost combined with a third sand or grit to aid drainage. The rhizomes go through a winter dormancy period and will grow best if planted in spring. Gingers require bright shade and hot and humid conditions to thrive and will not tolerate frost. Common ginger can be grown indoors in a well-lit spot, provided that it is kept humid. It also makes a good outdoor container plant in USDA Zone 8 and above. Rhizomes can be harvested after a full season's growth. Ginger rhizomes sold in shops may be treated with growth retardants and should be soaked for 24 hours before planting.
The common ginger is not a particularly ornamental species and is cultivated mainly for its fragrant rhizomes. There are a number of other species in the ginger family, including the shampoo ginger (Zingiber zerumbet), that are cultivated for their attractive foliage and flowers. All are tropical species that have similar cultivation requirements to common ginger .
Its pungent flavor has made common ginger a common cooking spice around the world. It is used fresh along with onions and garlic to flavor the cuisine of Southeast Asia and China. In India, ginger rhizome is used fresh or dried and powdered and used in curry powders. In the Caribbean, ginger root is brewed into ginger beer, and in Europe the root is candied to make crystallized ginger and ginger powder is used to flavor desserts. Medicinally, ginger is used to prevent nausea and motion sickness and as an anti-inflammatory and a pain reliever. The British Journal of Anaesthesia has reported that ginger is effective as a treatment for various types of nausea.