Ginger or more specifically Zingiber officinale is the common type used in most cooking and medicinal practices. It can be bought as powder, ground, crystallized or the fresh version. Buying ginger from the grocery is the most common path for most folks to take. But what if I told you that growing your own is so easy and actually fun that the only reason not to, is if you need it today!
There are a couple of techniques you can use to grow your ginger. The easiest for me was container gardening. Just like with any herb, this method is convienent and gives the grower the longest growing season. All you need is a hand of ginger( the term for a clump of rhizomes), a container approximately two times the size of the hand and potting soil. You can actually just buy a rhizome at your market or grocery. Make sure though that the root is firm not dried out and has a couple of eyes or buds showing. Then fill your pot about 3/4 full of potting soil and plant the root around 1/2- 1 inch under the loose soil. Make sure to water thorughly. The pot needs to have very good drainage because these plants love their water but don't like it boggy. You can use a regular houseplant fertilizer every month or so if you wish but use with care for too much nitrogen can cause the hand to get soft and mushy. Bright, indirect light is great for this plant. However, if you do plant in your garden make sure that there is noon day shade. These babies hate sunburn! I started my plant in the winter indoors so that I would for sure have enough time to get a good dose of growing in before harvest. Maxium flavor is said to require about 265 days. Let your's grow at least 3-4 months before harvesting. Common or cooking ginger rarely flowers but if it does, count your blessings and enjoy the fragrance. This will in no way affect the flavor! When you are ready to harvest, let the soil dry out good then dig up the root. The best parts come from the fingers that are new growth from the primary starter root. Most people go aheas and throw out the starter. I personally let mine dry with the stalk still attached until the leaves brown. I either freeze whole or grate into small servings.
The uses of ginger date back as early the 1800's. In Asia of course it was used first as an ingredient in stir frys, chutney, salads and many other ethnic dishes. In America our first thought, especially at this time of year, is to use ginger as a flavoring for our beloved ginger bread. But running a close second is ginger ale. Which by the way came about from flavoring beer with ginger but that's a whole other story! Medicinal uses range from colic and nausea to cold congestion. Ginger has also been used at one time as a stimulant. Of course if you get hold of some REALLY hot stuff, I could understand that!! Expectant mothers have long used the remedy of ginger ale and crackers to settle stomachs and it works wonders as a tea for colicy babies. Oh and I almost forgot! Simmer some ground or grates ginger in a kettle or pot and your house will sell delicious!!
I hope I have given you some ideas for growing and using your ginger. However, if you feel like growing the spice for personal use isn't really your cup of tea, try planting some of the ornamental varieties that are so beautiful to grow. The flowers come in many color and shapes. And they all smell heavenly! Alas my friends, I should mention that these are only hardy in zone 8 and above. Lucky tropical gardeners.
Shampoo Ginger, White Ginger, Bottlebrush Ginger, respectively. Special thanks to my fellow DGers for these wonder pics.