Plant: Ginger
Botanical Name: Gingerwort family - zingiber officinale

Synonyms, Country Names:



Cultivation: Ginger is a perennial that grows best in tropical countries and prefers semi-shaded locations. In the spring it produces reedy leaf stalks about two feet high with narrow, pointed green leaves. A yellow or white flower head spike can develop on a separate stalk. Each year extends the growth of the rhizome. Purportedly the best comes from the West Indies. Arab traders introduced it to Europe and the Romans brought it to England. Most of the fresh ginger root sold in this country comes from Hawaii.
Gerard attempted to grow it in the ground and failed but it did sprout "and budded forth greene leaves." Since ginger requires plenty of warmth, moisture and humidity it can be grown more easily in hotbeds. Plant rhizomes with eyes at the soil surface.

The Useful Plant: Ginger soothes indigestion, promotes circulation, effective against motion sickness, breathe sweetener, toothaches and bleeding gums, strengthening agent for loose teeth, improves memory, and relieves cold symptoms. An old Chinese wives' tale advises rubbing ginger root on balding scalps as a hair restorative.
When storing ginger in the refrigerator, first wrap in paper towel and then in tightly wrapped plastic or plant in flower pot in moist sand and it should last several months. Can be used fresh, crystallized or pickled.

Folklore: In Shakespeare's time it was common and cheap. In 1997 Ann Orr Deschanel talked with a woman professor who told her that in Shakespeare's time the woman of Puerto Rico illegally exported their home-grown ginger to England hidden in other marked containers. Since the Spanish were enemies of England it would have been a problem. Gingerbread cakes and cookies were one of Queen Elizabeth I's favorite foods.

Personal: Monica Van Zale
Colorado Shakespeare Gardens
February 2013