Growing Ginger Root

How to Grow Ginger Root

Ginger is a genus of about 100 species of perennials, native to tropical Asia and called Zingiberaceae. All species have reed-like stems and aromatic rhizomes, underground stems that resemble roots. Gingers of various kinds are grown commercially in all warm regions where the lowest temperature during the year is between 40 and 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Zingiber officinale has been cultivated for medicinal and culinary purposes since earliest times. Ginger was listed as a taxable commodity by the Romans in 200 AD, and first mentioned in Chinese medical literature during the Han dynasty (25-220 AD). In both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, ginger occurs in about half of all prescriptions.

Ginger Active Ingredients

Ginger is rich in volatile oil, gingerols, and shogaols. Shogaols, which are a breakdown product of gingerols, produced only on drying, are twice as pungent as gingerols; thus dried ginger is hotter than fresh and is used for different purposes in both cooking and Chinese medicine. Gingerols and Shogaols are heat producing chemicals and are therefore measured on the Scoville Scale that is most famous for being used to grade the hotness of chillies (via amounts of capsaicin which is the main heat producing chemical in chillies).

Ginger as a Flavouring

Zingiber officinale is of worldwide importance as a flavoring. The shoots and aromatic flowers of Z. mioga (Japanese ginger, Myoga ginger) are important in Japanese cuisine, either fresh or pickled as a flavoring. The leaves of Z. zerumbet (wild ginger, bitter ginger) are used for flavoring and wrapping foods; the rhizomes contain zerumbone, a cytotoxic compound used to treat cancer in China.

How to Grow Ginger

Growing ginger at home can be easy if temperature and humidity guidelines are followed. With the wide range of culinary and medicinal uses it can be a great herb to grow at home to always have on hand.

Fresh rhizomes, which can be bought from most grocery stores, can be planted in containers to then yield a further supply of rhizomes when the canes die down in the winter. Make sure the initial ginger root looks nice and firm, not dried or shrivelled. Soak this ginger root overnight in warm water, then cut into large chunks. Plant the ginger root chunks between about 2 and 5cm deep. Ginger needs well-drained, rich soil that is neutral to alkaline in pH level. They can be grown in sun or partial shade as long as humidity is kept high. Ginger is treated as an annual or biennial crop. Plants need a 10 month growing season for optimum rhizome production. Oldest canes can be removed when new shoots appear. Ginger is prone to bacterial wilt in parts of India, China, and Australia. If winter temperatures drop below 0 degrees Fahrenheit it is best to grow ginger indoors as it is a tropical plant.

Ginger can also be propagated from previous plantings of existing rhizomes during the late spring as growth begins. Shake the clumps of rhizomes to remove any loose soil. Using hands or a hand forks, split each clump into manageable pieces, checking for signs of disease. Discard any old rhizomes that are dried out, then detach the young rhizomes from the clump and neatly trim off their ends. Dust the cut areas with sulfur powder to prevent rot.

Harvesting Ginger

Harvest time depends on the intended use for the ginger. Rhizomes are lifted during the growing season for uses where lack of fibrousness is important, or when dormant for drying. Young, fresh rhizomes bought for cooking will keep 2-3 months in a cool, dry place; they are soaked in brine and vinegar before processing in sugar syrup as crystallized ginger. Sliced fresh rhizomes are made into infusions and cordials for medicinal use. Mature rhizomes are peeled (white ginger), limed (bleached), or left unpeeled (coated) before storing whole, or ground for use in infusions, decoctions, tinctures, and powders. Oil is distilled from unpeeled, dried, ground rhizomes.

Uses for Home Grown Ginger

Ginger is a sweet, pungent, aromatic, warming herb that is expectorant, increases perspiration, improves digestion and liver function, controls nausea, vomiting, and coughing, stimulates the circulation, relaxes spasms, and relieves pain. Medicinally it is taken internally for motion sickness, morning sickness, nausea, indigestion, colic, abdominal chills, colds, cough, influenza, and peripheral circulatory problems. It is not given to patients with inflammatory skin complaints, ulcers of the digestive tract, or high fever. Ginger can be administered externally for spasmodic pain, rheumatism, lumbago, menstrual cramps, and sprains.

There are many culinary uses for ginger as well. Fresh young rhizomes (green ginger) are juiced, eaten raw, preserved in syrup, and candied; also used in soups, marinades, curries, chutneys, pickles, meat and fish dishes, and Southeast Asian stir-fried dishes. Pickled ginger (gari) is used in Japanese cooking, especially to flavor sushi. Dried, ground ginger is used to flavor cakes, cookies, curries, chutneys, and sauces.

Ginger is also an important economic resource. The oil is used in perfumery. Dried ground ginger and essential oil are used in commercial food flavoring, especially in candy, soft drinks, and condiments. Extracts are added to herb teas, cordials and soft drinks (notably ginger beer and ginger ale).