GINGER - extracted from the pages of One Planet - http://www.oneplanetnatural.com/spicetrade.htm
(Zingiber officinale), herbaceous perennial plant of the family Zingiberaceae, probably native to southeastern Asia, or its aromatic, pungent rhizome (underground stem) used as a spice, flavouring, food, and medicine. Its generic name Zingiber is derived from the Greek zingiberis, which comes from the Sanskrit name of the spice, singabera. Its use in India and China has been known from ancient times, and by the 1st century AD traders had taken ginger into the Mediterranean region. Long cultivated by the ancient Chinese and Hindus, ginger was one of the first Oriental spices known in Europe. The Latin name, Zingiber, means "shaped like a horn" and refers to the roots, which resemble a deer's antlers. Throughout the early centuries, ginger was thought to have medicinal powers. In fact, King Henry VIII of England recommended ginger as a remedy in the great plague of the 16th century. It was often used by pregnant women for "morning sickness." The Spaniards brought it to the West Indies and Mexico soon after the conquest, and by 1547 ginger was being exported from Santiago to Spain. Toward the end of the 19th century, ginger was commonly sprinkled on top of beer or ale and then stirred into the drink with a hot poker - thus, ginger ale.
The spice has a slightly biting taste and is used, usually dried and ground, to flavour breads, sauces, curry dishes, confections, pickles, and ginger ale. The fresh rhizome, green ginger, is used in cooking. The peeled rhizomes may be preserved by boiling in syrup. In Japan and elsewhere, slices of ginger are eaten between dishes or courses to clear the palate. Ginger is used medically to treat flatulence and colic.
The leafy stems of ginger grow about a metre high. The leaves are 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimetres) long, elongate, alternate in two vertical rows, and arise from sheaths enwrapping the stem. The flowers are in dense, conelike spikes about 1 in. thick and 2 to 3 in. long composed of overlapping green bracts, which may be edged with yellow. Each bract encloses a single, small, yellow-green and purple flower. Growing ginger requires a consistently warm and moist climate with ample sunshine and heavy rainfall. The plant is propagated by dividing and planting the root-like structures called rhizomes. After about a full year of growth, the rhizomes are dug up, washed, boiled, and laid in the sun to dry for about eight days.
Ginger is propagated by planting rootstalk cuttings and has been under this type of cultivation for so long that it no longer goes to seed. Harvesting is done simply by lifting the rhizomes from the soil, cleansing them, and drying them in the sun. The dried ginger rhizomes are irregular in shape, branched or palmate. Their colour varies from dark yellow through light brown to pale buff. Ginger may be unscraped (with all of its cork layer); partly scraped; or scraped or peeled (with all of its cork, epidermis, and hypodermis removed).
Ginger contains about 2 percent essential oil; the principal component is zingiberene and the pungent principle of the spice is zingerone. The oil is distilled from rhizomes for use in the food and perfume industries.
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