Ginger is one of those weird spices that doesn’t seem to fit into any particular category very well. Is it a holiday spice? An ethnic spice? Essential for certain sweets? Yes, yes and yes.
Ginger is also great for soothing an upset stomach or any kind of nausea. In fact, the effect is almost miraculous. Next time your stomach is a bit “off,” grate some fresh ginger (or use dried powder) in a mug, pour some boiling water over it, add a little honey, then drink it down when it’s cooled a bit.
It’s almost as good as Angostura bitters. (Which you should keep around for medicinal AND cocktail-related purposes).
Though ginger is a denizen of the tropics, it’s not impossible to grow elsewhere. The plant is quite tough and well-suited to container gardening, as well as being attractive.
Here’s how I grow mine.
1. Find Some Roots
This is easier said than done. Maybe you’ll luck out and have a friend that’s already growing ginger. If so, beg a piece of root off them. If not, it’s time to go shopping.
It used to be that ginger in the supermarket was healthy and firm with good growing buds on it. I grew it multiple times that way in the past… but in recent years it seems a lot of our ginger is being imported from China and the buds are almost invariably damaged or completely removed. I’m assuming this is on purpose, so they don’t sprout on the shelf. Beyond that, it’s often partially dried out or limp and sad. That’s not what you want. Chances are, you’ll have better luck at the oriental market, where ginger is prized, or at your local organic market. If there are more Priuses than Chryslers in the parking lot. you’ve found the right store. Their ginger is likely to be expensive but that’s not going to matter all that much. Soon you’ll be growing all your own and the $4.99 a lb you spend today will be long forgotten.
2. Plant Those Roots
I’ve seen people start ginger roots in sand on their counters, or worse, prop it up in a glass of water to try and coax the buds to grow. Don’t worry about all that. It’s more likely to rot that way. What you need to do is just find a good spot in full to partial shade and bury your root about 2 – 4″ deep. If you live in a place with cold winters, plant it in a big pot. Water it in gently, then forget about it for a couple of months. Ginger usually takes its time to get going and it also has a dormant season. If you plant in fall, it likely will not emerge until spring. Do not over water it or plant ginger in a spot without good drainage. When it’s growing fast it can handle plenty of water… but when it’s dormant, it will rot. Ginger springs from the ground and grows quickly once it’s ready. Keep your eyes open so you don’t accidentally mow down the young plants. As they grow, the tropical leaves are hard to miss.
3. Harvest The Roots
This is the really fun part. After your ginger has grow nice and big, you can dig them up in the fall and see what you’ve got. If the plants are in pots, just dump the pots out on the ground and break off chunks of the root ball for the kitchen. You’re not going to kill the entire plant. Just save a few pieces to replant and it’ll come back for you. I use a spading for to get underneath the plants I keep in the ground, then flip them over to harvest what I want. After grabbing a basket of roots, I throw a few more back into the ground for next year’s crop. Easy!
If you want a steady supply of ginger for cooking or even brewing up a batch of ginger beer, it’s not hard to preserve. Just rinse off the roots, drop them in ziploc bags and pop the bags in the freezer. My wife tried drying ginger and found that the dehydrating process brought out some unpleasantly bitter flavors. Of course, if you grow enough ginger in your yard or in pots on your patio, you can just root around in the ground and break off what you need now and again (which definitely beats the freezer).
You can also do what various Oriental cultures do and pickle it. Pickled ginger is delicious, especially with sushi, but I haven’t mastered the process, so I can’t tell you what works.
What I can tell you for sure: ginger is dead simple to grow… and once you start, you won’t ever want to stop.