Today on our herbaria study, we will be looking at the rhizome plant Ginger.
When I was a child, back then in my home town, the different rivers where we used to fetch water were surrounded by two particular plants whose roots look very much alike. We never knew what these plants were. We were only using them as cosmetics to paint the nails and sometimes the lip. But as time passes by, I began to see these roots shaded in markets of different cities I have been to. They look familiar and so one day, I was curious to ask one of the sellers the price for the roots, and the response she gave was what revealed their names and she said and I quote “you mean ginger and turmeric”? Since that day, the names stuck to my brains. Just some months ago on a one year national assignment, the place I was posted to happened to be a rural area. There, the stream that serves as source of water is also surrounded by these rhizomes (ginger and turmeric). At this point, I concluded that both plants have something in common as related to thriving well in river banks. Experience they said is the best teacher.
That not withstanding, I want us to look at the plant ginger. I will be sharing both my knowledge on the plant and research from reliable sources. So don’t be in a haste, we have so much to give about ginger. See below.
Origin of Ginger
The history of Ginger goes back over 5000 years when the Indians and ancient Chinese considered it a tonic root for all ailments. While Ginger originated in Southeast Asia, it has a long history of being cultivated in other countries. At an early date it was exported to Ancient Rome from India. It was used extensively by the Romans, but almost disappeared from the pantry when the Roman Empire fell. After the end of the Roman Empire, the Arabs took control of the spice trade from the east. Ginger became quite costly like many other spices. In medieval times it was commonly imported in a preserved form and used to make sweets.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a warming spice and comes from the same family as cardamom and turmeric. It has been used in Asian food for centuries. It also became a popular spice in the Caribbean where it could be easily grown. In the 15th century, Ginger plants were carried on ships which is probably how they were introduced to the Caribbean as well as Africa. Today ginger is grown throughout the tropics.
It is only in recent years that ginger has become more valued as a spice than for it’s medicinal properties. Even so, in western countries it has been used to add taste to buttermilk drinks as far back as the 11th Century AD. Widespread use in foods did not occur until roughly 200 years later when ginger was used in cooking meats and in ginger pastes. It is said the Queen Elizabeth I of England invented the gingerbread man, which became a popular Christmas treat.
Ginger has been a trading commodity longer than most spices. But it came into its own during the 13th and 14th centuries. When the Arabs traveled to Africa and Zanzibar, they planted the rhizomes thus spreading the cultivation of this great herb. Today, Ginger can be found in any grocery store and purchased for a few dollars, but back in the 14th century a pound of Ginger held a value equal to that of a whole live sheep!
Scientific classification of Ginger
species……………….. Zingiber officinale
- R. Karuppiyan, H. Rahman, R.K. Avasthe, H.Kalita, Matber Singh, K.Ramesh, P.K. Panda, Ashok Kumar and Tasvina Rahman Borah, ICAR Research complex for NEH Region, Sikkim center, Tadong, Gangtok – 737 102