Ginger is a culinary favorite, used extensively in Asian cooking as well as modern baking. Historically though, it was perhaps most prized for its medicinal properties. Used to soothe everything from stomach distress, respiratory problems, arthritis and menstrual pains, it was also applied as a treatment for burns. Ginger has been around both as a medicine and a staple food spice in China for at least 3000 years. Eventually, it found its way into Europe and across the world largely as a coveted trade spice. It was not cheap. In 14th century England, a pound of the exotic and versatile tuber might cost as much as a sheep.
Today ginger can be found not just in specialty markets, but in most grocery stores. Though it is not the rare spice it once was, it can still be pricey. Growing ginger at home for use in soothing an aching belly or brightening a stir fry is easy to do and it won’t cost you a single sheep.
Ginger grows readily, but unless you live in zone 9 or 10, frost is an enemy of the plant and can spell the end of your ginger when the weather gets cold. Ginger planted in a pot can be kept indoors all year long or moved outside when the weather warms up.
Selecting a Root
Ginger found at your local grocery store may be used to propagate plants at home. Select rhizomes (root stems) that are thick and smooth. Shedding skin or thinning roots are signs that ginger may have been stored too long to effectively sprout.
Preparing the Rhizome
Soak the root in water overnight and then cut into pieces. Make sure each segment has at least a few bumps, which are the buds from which new plants will grow.
Fill a container at least a foot deep and wide (and use a drainage tray) with a mix of potting soil and compost. A container this size should accommodate 2 to 3 segmented hands. Press rhizomes into the soil to a depth just below the surface and cover with just an inch or two of additional soil. Keep the pot in a shaded spot if outdoors and indoors in a room with partial sunlight.
Care and Growth
Water sparingly at first, but more heavily once sprouting begins. Ginger likes humidity and warmth. Keep soil moist, but not over-soaked and in temperatures of at least 75 degrees. In the first year, they should reach a full size of 2 to 4 feet tall.
Once the plants are growing well, rhizomes may be harvested as needed. A piece of the root may be cut and the remaining segment returned to the soil for continued growth.
For more information on the history and uses of this miraculous tuber, check out Paul Shulick’s Ginger: Common Spice and Wonder Drug.