Little is known about how ginger first came to be cultivated. Historians write that the plant did not exist in its current form, but was bred by humans. These days, most ginger comes from Asia. India produces the largest quantity, followed by China and Indonesia. Zingiber Officinalis is a tropical plant which grows in shaded swamps so in the UK it needs help to get started.
Ginger is easy to propagate using a piece of fresh root ginger, the rhizome of the plant. Choose the freshest piece you can with visible eyes. They are the small yellow tips from which the shoots sprout. The roots are like a hand with fingers of rhizome that can be separated by breaking into pieces. Place each piece in a pot of compost with the eyes just level with the surface and water in well. Enclose the pot in a clear plastic bag and place in a sunny spot indoors at about 20C. In a few weeks you will start to notice green tips. This is best done in the Spring. Kept in a light, warm room your ginger will become a pretty houseplant and start producing harvests after six to eight months.
Ginger plants love light and warmth but they can do just as well in strong sunlight. Avoid cold, wind or drafts at all costs. The growing tips at the end of each finger of the rhizome will sprout quickly. Long, slim leaves will grow from the end and look like sprouting grass. Potting on is essential as within eight to ten months the ginger plant will be fully grown.
- Garden care: Plant the rhizomes into pots using a good soil based compost. The rhizome should be placed horizontally just below the surface of the soil with the small reddish coloured buds facing upwards. Water well and then grow on under glass until all risk of frost has passed. Alternatively, store the rhizomes in a cool, frost-free place until they can be planted straight out in the garden. Keep well watered during the summer but dry during winter. The rhizomes should be covered in the Autumn with a deep, dry mulch, or brought inside and kept in a frost free spot until the Spring when they can be planted outside again. (info from Crocus.com)
Ginger is a flowering plant whose rhizome, ginger root or ginger, is widely used as a spice and a folk medicine. It is a herbaceous perennial which grows annual pseudo stems about a meter tall bearing narrow leaf blades. The inflorescences bear pale yellow with purple flowers and arise directly from the rhizome on separate shoots. Ginger is in the family Zingiberaceae to which also belong turmeric, cardamom, and galangal. Ginger originated in the tropical rainforests from the Indian subcontinent to Southern Asia where ginger plants show considerable genetic variation. As one of the first spices exported from the Orient, ginger arrived in Europe during the spice trade, and was used by ancient Greeks and Romans.
Ginger root has been used medicinally in Asian, Indian and Arabic herbal traditions for thousands of years. It is still used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as an aid to digestion and to calm upset stomachs. Its warm, spicy aroma has been believed to awaken vitality and in many ancient cultures it was used as an aphrodisiac.
Ginger is the perfect way to spice up your cooking. The intensity of the flavour varies according to when the ginger is harvested. The older the plant, the hotter the root will taste. Young ginger roots are softer and more succulent and have a milder flavour. These young tubers can be eaten fresh or preserved in vinegar, sugary water or sherry. Young ginger is also perfectly suited for making ginger tea. Just add sugar and lemon to taste.
Fresh ginger can be used finely chopped, grated, crushed to give a ginger juice, or simply sliced. In South-East Asia and the Indian subcontinent, fresh ginger is frequently added to curry pastes and it is often cooked with fish dishes in China. In Europe, dried ginger is more frequently used in baking, as in the classic parkin of northern England.
Another wonderful use for ginger is Ginger Beer. I remember my mother often had some of this on the go in out little kitchen. She made it in the traditional way fermenting it with yeast but below is a cheat recipe.
Ginger Beer Cheat Recipe.
- 2 lemons, juiced and zested
- ½ tbsp. clear honey
- 150g root ginger, peeled and grated
- 115g caster sugar
- 1½ litres soda water
- In a large jug, mix the juice and grated lemon zest with the honey, grated ginger and caster sugar.
- Pour in 150ml soda water and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.
- Top up with the remaining soda water.
- Using a fine sieve or piece of muslin, strain the mixture into another large jug, discarding the zest and ginger pulp.
- Chill in the fridge for at least an hour before serving with ice.
Ginger is used in many forms. Whole fresh roots, Dried roots, powdered, preserved, crystallised and pickled.
- Whole fresh roots. These provide the freshest taste.
- Dried roots.
- Powdered ginger. This is ground dried root
- Preserved or stem ginger. Fresh young roots are peeled, sliced and cooked in heavy sugar syrup.
- Crystallised ginger. This is also cooked in sugar syrup, air dried and rolled in sugar.
- Pickled ginger. The root is sliced paper thin and pickled in vinegar.
Ginger tea is good to drink when you feel a cold coming on. It is a diaphoretic, meaning that it will warm you from the inside and promote perspiration. Use it when you just want to warm up. Steep 20-40g of fresh, sliced ginger in a cup of hot water. Add a slice of lemon or a drop of honey if you fancy. This is great for lifting your mood. Packed with antioxidants, it has a whole range of health benefits so is the perfect Winter warmer.