Do you love gingerbread? Dream about adding that lovely ginger flavor to your pumpkin pie? Then growing ginger may be just the ticket for you. 'Ginger' is in fact the rhizome (The underground stem that provides the base for the rest of the plant to grow from) of the plant Zingiber officinale.
The History of Ginger
The first mentions of ginger being used date back more than 3000 years. These first references were found in central Asia. Whereas today we often refer to ginger as a 'hand,' these records refer to it as a 'horn.' Asia was also the first region to start actively cultivating it and spreading it around the world via the Indian trade routes.
It wasn't until Marco Polo's expeditions that ginger achieved popularity in Europe. It began to be made into gingerbread and the records are full of references to fairs and carnivals selling this food. it wasn't long before its popularity grew so much that the Queen herself began enjoying it. Many authors cite Queen Elizabeth I's use of gingerbread men as indicating that she invented the sweet! With royal approval gingerbread became a fixed part of Britain's cuisine.
Most people buy their ginger as rhizomes and grow the plant from there. When you buy ginger for growing make sure that it has as many 'fingers' (Protrusions) as possible, as each of these 'fingers' will grow into a full plant. You will want to start growing your ginger in late winter indoors, then transfer it outside in late spring when it is warm outside
When you choose a pot, you will want one that is at least twice the size of the rhizome. Fill the pot with potting soil, being careful to leave a couple of centimeters at the top. The ginger will go on top of the soil. Don't worry if this seems strange, it is important for the early growth. Now you just have to water it regularly. Luckily ginger doesn't need direct sunlight, so you can grow it in a shady area.
After 3-4 months, it is time for harvesting. The newer roots will usually have the better flavor, so you will want to harvest them. It is easiest to simply trim off the bits that you need when you need them. Most gardeners don't use the older roots and throw them out at the end of the season!
Ever wondered why ginger is so delicious? Scientists have discovered a compound in the rhizome known as a 'gingerol.' Interestingly it changes when the ginger is cooked, which explains why cooked ginger smells and tastes different to the raw kind. This compound is chemically similar to 'capsaicin' which is found in chili peppers, so you definitely know why ginger has such a kick!
Zingiber officinale is great as an ornamental herb. It has small yellow flowers and goes great with most landscaping.
For a long time a lot of people have been using ginger as a medicinal herb. The medical uses of ginger are vast:
* Arthritis. Ginger has been linked with relief from the pain of this condition.
* Heart Disease. People who ate a diet rich in ginger were discovered to have thinner blood and a lower body cholesterol than those who didn't. Therefore ginger would help those with chronic heart disease. However it is not all good news, because of this ginger interferes with the effect of drugs such a warfarin, so people ho have had heart surgery should consult their physician.
* Sickness. Trials have shown positive results on both pregnant mothers-to-be and seasick people. Ginger not only reduces feelings of nausea, but also reduces the probability of actually being sick!
* Diabetes. The trials have so far only been tested on rats, but the research looks promising and soon we may see ginger being recommended for diabetics.
* Cold and Flu. As a tisane (In tea) ginger reduces the symptoms of colds and was especially beneficial in reducing the pain of a sore throat.