Ginger’s sweet bite makes it an excellent addition to many favorite foods, and it can be candied for a special treat. And you can grow it at home!
The ginger plant
Ginger was one of the first spices to be exported from the Orient and it is a fascinating plant. As a plant family in its own right, ginger (Zingiber officinale) is cousin to turmeric and cardamom.
The ginger we eat is not actually a root. It is a rhizome. Rhizomes are modified, underground stems that put out lateral shoots and adventitious roots. Ginger plants do not have aboveground stems. Instead, they grow much like the grass in your lawn, with leaves rolled together at the base of the plant to form pseudostems, except that they can grow to three or four feet tall! Equally tall floral stems emerge directly from the rhizome. Flower buds start out green and then turn white and pink before opening up into mature flowers. Mature flowers can be pale yellow, deep purple, or brilliant red, depending on the variety.
How to grow ginger
Ginger needs loose, nutrient-rich soil, so it is best grown in containers. This makes it easy to bring indoors as temperatures drop in winter, as well. Most grocery store ginger ‘roots’ are treated with chemicals that prevent them from sprouting, but not always. While I normally warn against planting grocery store foods, due to the potential risk of introducing a safe-to-us-but-bad-for-plants disease, your ginger will, most likely, be growing in a container, so it’s not really an issue. Rinse off the ginger and place it in a container filled with potting soil, just under the soil line. Keep the soil moist but not soggy to encourage growth. Being from the tropical rainforest, your ginger plant will need lots of warmth, moisture, and protection from intense sunlight. [Under the canopy, jungles are actually pretty dark!]
While you can harvest ginger rhizomes at any time, it is best for the plant’s long term health if you wait until the aboveground portion withers, similarly to garlic. The desired portion of the rhizome is cut off and the rest of the plant can be returned to its container. The cut off portion is then scalded to prevent it from sprouting. The older ginger gets, the tougher and drier the rhizome becomes. Ginger is a perennial plant, which means it keeps on growing. It may look as though it dies in winter, but don’t be fooled. Unless your region is too cold for ginger, it will come back year after year. Each little nub on a ginger rhizome is a potential new plant.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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