Thursday, May 26, 2011

Zingiber officinale - Ginger

Zingiber officinale - Ginger, also know as Ginger Root, Common Ginger, Cooking Ginger, Pine Cone Plant, Canton Ginger, and Chinese Ginger.  The Latin name Zingiber is derived from the Sanskrit word, shringavera, which means "shaped like a deer's antlers."  The word Ginger evolved in English from the Latin zingiber as gingifer and gingivere.  Other sources say that the English name comes from various languages including the French gingembre, Old English gingifere, Medieval Latin: ginginer, Greek zingiberis and the Indian inji ver.

Ginger is a rhizome of the plant Zingiber officinale, and has both culinary and medicinal uses.  Cultivation began thousands of years ago in South Asia and has since spread to East Africa and the Caribbean.  Fifty percent of worldwide ginger production is in India, but the best quality ginger comes from Jamaica

Ginger is a herbaceous perennial, it sends up a green reed in the spring, like a stalk with narrow lanceolate leaves, which die down annually.  The flowering stalk rises directly from the root, ending in an oblong scalloped spike.  The flower is white or yellowish-green with purple lips and cream colored blotches.  The plant gets about 4 ft  tall with leaves about 3/4 inch wide and 7 inces long. 

Ginger has been used for thousands of years for relief from arthritis, rheumatism, sprains, muscular aches and pains, catarrh, congestion, coughs, sinusitis, sore throats, diarrhea, colic, cramps, indigestion, loss of appetite, motion sickness, fever, flu, chills, and infectious disease.  Medical ginger, known as Jamaica Ginger, was classified as a stimulant and carminative and used frequently for dyspepsia, gastroparesis, slow motility symptoms, constipation, and colic.  It was also frequently employed to disguise the taste of medicines.

Ginger has been found effective in multiple studies for treating nausea caused by seasickness, morning sickness and chemotherapy. It has been medically proven to be more effective than dimenhydrinate (Dramamine®) in reducing motion sickness.  The television program Mythbusters performed an experiment using one of their staff who suffered from severe motion sickness. The staff member was placed in a moving device which, without treatment, produced severe nausea. Multiple treatments were administered. None, with the exception of the ginger and the two most common drugs, were successful. The staff member preferred the ginger due to lack of side effects.

There is a cultivar of Zingiber officinale known as 'Sunti', which comes from Java and is similar to the common cooking ginger, but forms smaller rhizomes.  It is used in the same way but is said to have better medicinal qualities.

Tea brewed from Ginger is a common folk remedy for colds.  Ginger ale and ginger beer are also drunk as stomach settlers in countries where the beverages are made.  Ginger water was also used to avoid heat cramps in the United States.
The Chinese make a dried ginger candy that is fermented in plum juice and used to suppress coughing. They also make "ginger eggs" (scrambled eggs with finely diced ginger root) as a common home remedy for coughing. A drink made with sliced ginger cooked in water with brown sugar or a cola is used as a folk medicine for the common cold.

In Burma, ginger and palm tree juice are boiled together and taken to prevent the flu. In Congo, ginger is crushed and mixed with mango tree sap to make a juice, that is considered a panacea. In India, ginger is applied as a paste to the temples to relieve headache. Ginger with lemon and black salt is also used for nausea.

CAUTIONS: Although Ginger is on the FDA's "generally recognized as safe" list, it can cause heartburn, bloating, gas, belching and nausea, particularly if taken in powdered form, and can also interact with some medications, including warfarin. Ginger is not recommended for people suffering from gallstones as it promotes the production of bile. Allergic reactions to ginger generally result in a rash, and an acute overdose of ginger can result in a state of central nervous system over-stimulation called ginger intoxication or the "ginger gitters." Unchewed fresh ginger may result in intestinal blockage, and individuals who have had ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease or blocked intestines may react badly to large quantities of fresh ginger. There are also suggestions that ginger may affect blood pressure, clotting, and heart rhythms.

Ginger root is used around the world as a spice or food additive and acts as a food preservative. It is a typical ingredient of Chinese, Japanese and many Asian cuisines for flavoring dishes such as seafood or goat meat and vegetarian cuisine. In Western cuisine, Ginger is used mainly in sweet foods such as ginger ale and gingerbread.

In China, it is often paired with savory dishes such as fish and meat when it is cooked. However, candied ginger is sometimes a component of Chinese candy boxes, and a herbal tea can also be prepared. In Japan, it is pickled or grated and used sushi, tofu, or noodles. In the traditional Korean kimchi, Ginger is finely minced and added to the ingredients of the spicy paste just before the fermenting process.

Ginger was well-known to the ancient Romans, and a very important article of trade. It was exported from India to the Roman empire 2000 years ago where it was valued more for its medicinal properties than as an ingredient in cookery. It continued to be popular in Europe despite the fall of the Roman empire, with Arab merchants controlling the trade in ginger and other spices for centuries. By medieval times, it was being imported in preserved form, to be used in sweets.

Ginger was one of the most commonly traded spices during the 13th and 14th centuries. Arabs carried the rhizomes on their voyages to East Africa to plant at coastal settlements and on Zanzibar. During this time in England, ginger was sought after, and one pound in weight of ginger was equivalent to the cost of a sheep.

The first documented instance of figure-shaped gingerbread biscuits appearing was in the court of Elizabeth I of England. She had the gingerbread figures made and presented in the likeness of some of her important guests. Ginger is also valued as an aphrodisiac due to its widespread use as a systemic tonic, hormone balancer, energy enhancer, and agent for improving the appetite and circulation.

In the Sanscrit classic Manasollasa, written in the 11th century AD ginger was mentioned as a flavouring for buttermilk drinks. In the Orient, about half of all herbal medicinal combinations include ginger. During the Middle Ages, ginger was often used as a preservative. Because baked goods made with ginger did not spoil as quickly, they were thought to be magical.

To grow Ginger, select your stock from the local grocery. Look for large root pieces that are shiny and fat and have little nubs on them. Most gingers in cultivation are sterilized cultivars, grown for the edible rhizome and the flower is rarely seen. Soak the ginger in tepid water for a few hours before planting, to wash off any growth retardant that may have been applied.

Start ginger in a 14" pot, filled three quarters full with soil. Lay pieces horizontally, placing them two or three inches apart around the center of the pot. Cover with one inch of soil. Ginger likes to grow in dappled light to light shade. While sprouting, make sure to keep the roots uniformly moist. Once you have a thriving set of shoots, place the plants in a shady spot out of doors for a few hours a day after the overnight temperature rises above 50 degrees F. Gradually increase time outside over a four day period, then place the pot in a shady permanent location.

As the root is near the surface, you will often see small nobs at the soil line of your plant that can be selectively cut for culinary use. Start harvesting about four months into the season and choose roots around the outer edge of the pot.

In the fall, bring the pot indoors and place it in a storage area where the temperature stays above freezing. Allow the tops of the plant to yellow and then trim them off. At this time you can uproot the plant and take a larger harvest if you want; then replant ginger for a future harvest. Moisten the soil once a month to keep the roots viable. In the spring, after all threat of frost has passed, place the pot in a warm shady spot and watch for a new set of shoots. Repot every couple of years.

Resources include:

The Herb Gardener
Herb Companion
Plant Cultures
A Modern Herbal

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