Zingiber officinale

                Family: Zingiberaceae (ginger family)

by Darlene S. Widirstky           

picture of the herb ginger


Ginger is a perennial herb in tropical locations such as Asia and should be treated as an annual or biennial crop in our zone (Long Island, zone 7). Z. officinale has leafy stems that grow to about 20 inches. The leaves grow to about 7 inches long and 3/4 inches wide. Inflorescences grow from a separate stem and appear as a dense spike to 3 inches in length. The bracts are green with transparent margins and the flowers are yellow green. The lip is purple with cream blotches and base. The rhizome, mistakenly referred to as the ginger root, is tuberous and very aromatic, with rootlets on the bottom. Cultivars are sterile but widely cultivated in tropical or warm climates for the rhizome.


Segments of the rhizome can be broken off for propagating. Plant the rhizome in a large pot positioning the 'eye' at the soil surface.


Ginger needs well-drained, humus-rich, neutral to alkaline soil and needs plenty of warmth, moisture and humidity. If you planted a rhizome in a large pot you can set it outdoors in a shady location during the summer. Give it at least a year before harvesting. Gently pull the plant from the soil and snap off as much of the rhizome as you want, replant the rest. Cut off the leaf stalk and rootlets.

Herbal uses:

Culinary: Ginger is much more than a culinary spice. Ginger contains a relatively high amount of protein (approximately 9%). It also contains vitamins, especially A and niacin as well as minerals and amino acids.

Young, fresh ginger is known as green ginger and it can be eaten raw, preserved in syrup or candied. Indian cuisine uses ginger in curries, chutneys, meat and fish dishes and soups. The Japanese use pickled ginger in their cooking also, especially to flavor sushi. Powdered ginger is used to flavor cakes, cookies and sauses. Because the rhizome is fibrous recipes recommend slicing, grating, steeping, chopping, or rubbing ginger root to release its pungent, spicy flavor. For those of you who occasionally need a natural appetite stimulant, ginger tea taken about one-half hour to one hour before meals might help. Ginger tea not only acts as an appetite stimulant, but can also improve digestion.

In addition to ginger tea, other beverages containing ginger are ginger ale, ginger beer, and ginger liqueur. Ginger liqueur can be used before eating to stimulate your appetite, or after to help the digestive system.


The essential oil is used in the perfume industry. You can use the leftover peelings and imperfect leftovers and add them to your simmering pot pourris.


Used in Ayurvedic, Unani, Japanese, and Chinese Traditional medicines and essential oil of ginger has at least 100 chemical components. Gingerols and shogoals are two of the chemical components and they are responsible for the ginger´s familiar hot zing. In Traditional Chinese medicine ginger is known as jiang meaning "defend". Ginger is regarded as a plant taken to defend the body from dampness and cold (two of the "six evils%quot;). It stimulates yang-energy, and warms lung-energy and stomach­energy. Ginger has an affinity to the stomach, spleen, heart, lungs, and kidneys (the middle burner).

Fresh ginger is referred to as mother ginger or Sheng-jiang. It is primarily used internally to treat colds accompanied by chills, but with no fever. Fresh ginger is always served with raw fish and other seafood dishes.

Dried ginger is known as Gan-jiang and is much "hotter"than the fresh. It is used to treat coughs and dissolves phlegm associated with colds or chronic bronchitis; asthma and cough due to a cold and coldness associated with shock, digestive disturbances arising from deficient spleen energy, including diarrhea and vomiting.

Externally ginger is used to treat the pain of arthritis, rheumatism, lumbago, sprains, and spasmodic pain and in the treatment of minor burns. To treat burns, mash the ginger to release its juice, soak a cotton ball in it and apply to burned area. Due to ginger"s antibiotic properties no ulceration should take place.

Studies are currently focused on ginger´s ability as a way of preventing clogged arteries. Some researchers have already indicated that ginger does inhibit blood thickening without the side effects of aspirin. In the U.S. studies are focusing on ginger"s ability to relieve nausea. The German Commission E, the official body set up by the German Federal Health Agency to establish monographs on herbs on sale in Germany has licensed ginger as an over the counter medication for the prevention of motion sickness. The same holds true in Belgium and the United Kingdom. The study of nausea centers on ginger"s use in treating morning sickness in pregnancy. Traditional Chinese Medicine cautions using ginger during pregnancy without supervision, however, they do use it, sparingly, to treat morning sickness.

Until more is known, do not use ginger if you are pregnant.


The scientific Latin name, Zingiber, is derived from an early Sanskrit word, shringavera, meaning "horn shaped" which refers to the horn-like protrusions on the root.

Zingiber has a long history of being appreciated for its medicinal properties. Around the time 3000 B.C., the Emperor Shen Nung compiled the Pen Tsao Ching (Classic of Herbs) in which ginger appeared prominently. The Chinese philosopher Confucius (551-479 B.C.) also wrote of its many benefits. Later, in 77 A.D., Discorides wrote of its ability to warm and soften the stomach.

The primary holy book of Islam, the Koran (Arabic, al-Quran) contains text which indicates that ginger is considered both a spiritual and a heavenly herb. Early Arab traders protected their supplies from Greeks and Romans by inventing stories of the primitive and ruthless peoples guarding ginger from thieving marauders. These tales didn´t stop the Greeks for too long and it was the Greeks who adopted ginger as a digestive aid. According to early written documentation, the Greeks incorporated ginger into bread which later became what we know as gingerbread. Later, the Romans brought ginger to Britain and Europe as a spice. After the fall of the Roman Empire ginger became a scarce and expensive commodity in Europe. Once Asian trade was renewed the demand for ginger in Europe was insatiable. It was used as a medicine as well as a spice, but is probably best remembered in the elaborate construction of gingerbread houses, based on the tale Hansel and Gretel.

In Britain, ginger was to be incorporated into stomach-soothing drinks, which we all know as ginger ale and ginger beer.

American Revolutionary soldiers were given ginger in their rations and today's merchant marines follow the ancient Chinese and Viking tradition of using ginger to prevent seasickness, to relieve the affects of motion sickness, nausea, and vertigo.

Bibliography upon request

Visit the Horticulture Page here

The author is a Master Gardener and editor of the SCMGS Newsletter (Long Island, N.Y.).