< Back to Newsletters



There are about seventy species of the genus Zingiber, the commercial gingerbeing obtained from Zingiber officinale. This species is a native of tropical Asia, but now extensively cultivated in tropical countries of both the Eastern and Western Hemispheres.

At present the cultivation of ginger is spread almost over the whole sub-tropical world, and the drug is pro–duced in Jamaica, St. Lucia, Dominicaand Africa, India, Cochin-China, Japan, etc. The chief varieties of gingergrown in India are the Cochin and the Calicut, of which the Cochin is reputedto be the better grade. This occurs in two forms, viz., the whitewashed andbleached, cut or scraped and the unbleached.

The ginger plant, Zingiber officinale, has a biennial or perennial, creeping rhizome, and an annual stem, which rises two or threefeet in height, is solid, cylindrical, erect, and enclosed in an imbricated membranous sheath.

The leaves are sessile, lanceolate, acute, and smooth, up to eight inches long by about three-quarters of an inch in breadth, and stand alternately on the sheaths of the stem. The flower-stalk rises by the side of the stem from six inches to a foot, and, like it, is clothed with oval acuminate sheaths;but it is without foliage leaves, and terminates in an ellipsoidal, obtuse, bracteal, imbricated spike.

The flowers are of a greenish-yellow color with a purple lip spotted with yellow and appear two or three at a time between the bracteal scales. The fruit is an oblong capsule. The plants mature in from nine to ten mouths. The rhizome of the ginger is lifted from the soil by a single thrust of the fork at the time when the stems of the plant turn white, before the rhizome has begun to get tough and fibrous.

Ginger of Commerce
The ginger of commerce consists of the thick scaly rhizomes (underground stems) of the plant. They branch with thick thumb-like protrusions, thus individual divisions of the rhizome are known as "hands." Ginger, both fresh and dried, has become increasingly popular in the United States in recent years. During the 1990s, on average, the U.S. imported more than 4,000 metric tons of ginger per year. Major world producers include Fiji, India, Jamaica, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and China. American imports come from China, several Caribbean Islands, Africa, Central America, Brazil, and Australia. Ginger is now commercially cultivated in nearly every tropical and subtropical country in the world with arable land for export crops. While most ginger is imported, the best this writer has ever sampled was organic ginger grown on a limited scale in Hawaii.

It is prepared in different ways for the market, which is an important factor in determining the appearance of the several varieties. When simply deprived of roots, and washed, it constitutes the green ginger which is used for condimental purposes. When, in addition, it is scalded in boiling water and rapidly dried, it is known as black ginger. There are other varieties, however, which after lashing are either peeled and bleached some–times with chlorine or sulphurous acid or coated with lime or having their cork removed from the flattened sides.

Ginger in History

(all references to therapeutic and medicinal uses in this article are for cultural interest only and not meant as a guide for diagnosis or treatment of disease)
It has been cultivated for so long that its exact origin is unclear. Cultivated for millennia in both China and India, it reached the West at least two thousand years ago, recorded as a subject of a Roman tax in the second century after being imported via the Red Sea to Alexandria. Tariff duties appear in the records of Marseilles in 1228 and in Paris by 1296. Ginger is known in England before the Norman Conquest, as it is commonly found in the 11th century Anglo-Saxon leech books. Ginger is detailed in a 13th century work, "Physicians of Myddvai," a collection of recipes and prescriptions written by a physician, Rhiwallon, and his three sons, by mandate of Rhys Gryg, prince of South Wales (who died in 1233). By the 13th and 14th centuries it was familiar to English palates, and next to pepper, was the most popular spice. A pound of ginger was then valued at the price of one sheep. Ginger, as a product of the Far East, was indelibly imprinted on the taste buds of Westerners before potatoes, tomatoes, and corn were even known to exist by Europeans.


Ginger was known in China as early as 400 B.C. The Greeks and the Romans thought it was of Arabian origin because it was sent from India through the Red Sea. They used it as a spice. It was introduced into Jamaica and other islands of the West Indies by the Spaniards and ginger was exported from the West Indies to Spain in considerable quantities around the year 1547 A.D.
Odor of Ginger
The odor of ginger is aromatic and penetrating, the taste spicy, pungent, hot, and biting. These properties gradually diminish, and are ultimately lost, by exposure.

The peculiar flavor of the root appears to depend on the volatile oil; its pungency is due to a yellowish liquid called gingerol. This is a mixture of homologous phenols of the formula C16H26O3. (CH2O) no Zingerone, C11H14O3, is crystalline and has a sweet odor and an extremely pungent taste; it is chemically related to vanillin, and is formed when gingerol is treated with baryta water. The pungency of gingerol, in contrast to that of capsicum, is destroyed by heating with alkaline hydroxides.

Ginger Oil
The volatile oil is yellow with a sp.gr. of from 0.875 to 0.890 and an optical rotation of about -25° to -45° (the Japanese ginger is said to yield an oil which is dextrorotatory). It consists largely of a mixture of terpenes, camphone, phellandrene and a new sesquiterpene, which the discoverers, von Soden and Rojahn (Ph. Ztg., 1900, p. 414) call zingiberene. There is also some citral, cineol and borneol in the oil. There is present in the root a considerable proportion of starch.

Ginger uses
Traditional Uses

The Chinese Experience (all references to therapeutic and medicinal uses in this article are for cultural interest only and not meant as a guide for diagnosis or treatment of disease)
In China, ginger is mentioned in the earliest of herbals. Dried ginger is first mentioned in Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, attributed to the Divine Plowman Emperor, Shen&emdash;Nong, who lived about 2,000 BC. Fresh ginger was first listed in Ming Yi Bie Lu (Miscellaneous Records of Famous Physicians) and Ben Cao Jing Ji Zhu (Collection of Commentaries on the Classics of Materia Medica) both attributed to Tao Hong&emdash;jing, published during the dynasties of the North and South Kingdoms around the year 500 AD.

Fresh ginger and dried ginger are considered two different commodities. In fact, one author of an early ben cao (Chinese herbal) felt that they were so different that they must come from two different plants! The dried root is known as Gan-jiang. The fresh root is called Sheng-jiang.

Even in modern China, while an essential ingredient in almost any meal, it is also one of the most widely consumed drugs. Both fresh and dried roots are official drugs of the modern Chinese pharmacopoeia, as is a liquid extract and tincture of ginger. Ginger is used in dozens of traditional Chinese prescriptions as a "guide drug" to"mediate" the effects of potentially toxic ingredients. In fact, in modern China, Ginger is believed to be used in half of all herbal prescriptions.

Use in India and Elsewhere (all references to therapeutic and medicinal uses in this article are for cultural interest only and not meant as a guide for diagnosis or treatment of disease)

Like the ancient Chinese, in India the fresh and dried roots were considered distinct medicinal products. Freshginger has been used for cold-induced disease, nausea, asthma, cough, colic, heart palpitation, swellings, dyspepsia, loss of appetite, and rheumatism. In short, for the same purposes as in ancient China. In nineteenth century India, one English writer observed that a popular remedy for cough and asthma consisted of the juice of fresh ginger with a little juice of fresh garlic, mixed with honey. A paste of powdered dried ginger was applied to the temples to
relieve headache. To allay nausea, fresh ginger was mixed with a little honey, topped off with a pinch of burnt peacock feathers. Ginger is as popular a home remedy in India today, as it was 2,000 years ago.

Ginger is truly a world domestic remedy. It has been well-known in European homes for almost a thousand years.Asian cultures have used it for centuries. Indigenous groups of the Caribbean islands were quick to adopt it as a
remedy after its introduction to America by Francisco de Mendoca. By 1585, in fact, it was an export from Santa Domingo. In Jamaica the warm steamy fumes of hot ginger tea are used as an inhalant to relieve head colds.