Gingers are great landscaping plants that can provide privacy, cut flowers, shade, and spectacular colors. This article is about helping the gardener choose a variety of ginger that can provide some of the above attributes while being edible at the same time.
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We live in the wet tropics of northeast Australia and have several of these gingers in our yard already. After researching this article, we are now looking at adding several more.
The ginger family.
The ginger family Zingiberaceae is a pantropically distributed plant group that originates in the tropics of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, with their greatest diversity in Asia, particularly the southeast regions. It consists of approximately 50 genera that make up over 1600 species.
There are species still undiscovered deep in the jungles, most likely. Many of the plants have fantastic shows of long-lived flowers and are a food source for many birds and insects. We can also use some as food.
Are there any edible ornamental gingers?
There are many edible ornamental gingers, but there is no common part that can be used from all. No plant should be considered edible until research and positive identification has taken place. Plant components that are often used are as follows.
- Rhizomes. Many edible ginger varieties have spicy rhizomes, some taste terrible.
- Shoots. Used similar to bamboo shoots.
- Leaves. Used to wrap food prior to steaming and/or boiling. Can be dried and powdered as a spice.
- Flower spikes. Cooked like a vegetable, sliced and dried as well.
- Fruits and Seeds. Blue ginger berries, cardamom pods, etc.
- Starch. A few cultivars contain useful quantities of this and can replace arrowroot starch.
Ginger, wherever it is grown natively, has an incredibly long history as a medicinal plant and a culinary one. Wherever you find a particular variety, you soon discover localized uses for that plant.
The commonalities of most of these uses are the edible rhizomes and the young shoots. The flowers are often eaten and can be used in teas and tonics. They can often be used in a salad.
What are some edible ornamental ginger varieties?
There are many ginger varieties that are edible, and many of them are listed below.
- Beehive Ginger : Zingiber spectabile
- Bitter Ginger : Zingiber zerumbet
- Common Ginger: Zingiber officinale
- Crepe Ginger : Cheilocostus speciosus
- Hardy Ginger : Zingiber mioga
- Hidden Ginger : Curcuma petiolata
- Indian Head Ginger : Costus spicatus
- Mango Ginger : Curcuma amada
- Native Ginger : Alpinia coerulea
- Red Ginger Lily : Etlingera elatior
- Round Rooted Galangal : Kaempferia rotunda
- Shell Ginger : Alpinia zerumbet
- Shellflower Ginger : Alpinia nutans
- Thai Ginger : Alpinia galanga
- Turmeric : Curcuma longa
- Wild Ginger : Asarum canadense
- White Ginger : Hedychium flavescens
- Zedoary Ginger : Curcuma zedoaria
- Wresah (Javanese) : Amomum dealbatum
- Black Cardamom : Amomum subulatum
- Chinese Keys : Boesenbergia genera
Each variety listed above is discussed in some detail below.
1. Beehive ginger.
This is a member of the true gingers recognized by the genus Zingiber. This family has culinary and medicinal properties and is used the world over. All parts of the beehive ginger are edible.
It is a highly ornamental plant that often takes a prominent place in tropical landscaped gardens. The flower is shaped like a very large fat pinecone and grows on its own stalk from the plant base.
Several colors are available in the flowers, from greens to reds and many in between. Some change color as they mature.
2. Bitter ginger.
This is another member of the Zingiber family; however, while this variety is edible, it doesn’t mean it is pleasant to eat.
The rhizome can be cooked but has an acrid palate that you may find unpalatable. It has good medicinal properties, like the other members of this family.
Bitter ginger is said to have anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and anti-viral properties. It is also shown to have anti-diabetic and anti-microbial benefits and is an anti-oxidant and analgesic.
Essential oils extracted from the rhizomes are used in shampoos, soaps, and perfumes.
The leaves can be used as a food wrap in cooking similar to banana leaves.
3. Common ginger.
This is the rhizome that is most often found on supermarket shelves. It is very popular in many cultures and relatively easy to grow.
It will outperform if the right conditions are supplied, as found in this article titled “how to grow a lot of ginger, is this the best mulch.” It talks about the harvest from a small space that measures in the tens of kilos.
The culinary properties of this spice are renowned and revered, and it is the most recognized of the Zingiberaceae family and possibly the most used.
Edible common ginger helps fight inflammation and is also an antioxidant.
4. Crepe ginger.
This plant has lovely, variegated foliage, and when in flower, it presents white flowers produced from red cones. It is deciduous in cool climates but tolerates cold reasonably well.
It is a great landscaping plant that allows for all parts to be eaten, although it comes with an acrid taste. It belongs to the Costaceae family and has become an invasive species in some places due to its easy seed propagation.
5. Hardy ginger.
Also known as Japanese ginger, this plant’s edible history is of the flowers and young soft shootsused in meals.
All parts of the plant can be eaten, and this plant can also be grown in cold climates, with some success growing into zone 6. It is a member of the Zingiber family and shares many health benefits that typically come with all members.
It shares the Hardy ginger name with Hedychium densiflorum, and there can be some confusion between the two. We are unsure of this variety as an edible type, so have left it out just in case. It is unlikely to be a problem, though, as it belongs to the Zingiberaceae family.
|Bitter Ginger||7-11||Leaves, roots acrid|
|Common ginger||8-11||Rhizomes, shoots.|
|Crepe Ginger||7-11||All, acrid|
6. Hidden ginger.
The name of this variety derives from the flowering behavior of the plant. When in bloom, the flower is on a short spike and arrives before the early leaves.
It belongs to the Curcuma genus, which holds the turmeric plant and is a part of the greater ginger family. The edible components of this ginger are the rhizomes, but just like several of the edible gingers on the list here, this one is acrid.
7. Indian head ginger.
This is a member of the Cactaceae family of gingers. The more common edible components of this plant are the flowers. The rhizomes may also be used but lack much of the ginger bite that the common ginger offers.
This genus was once named within the Zingiberaceae family, but due to the lack of potency of scent, it was delegated to its own genus alongside it.
8. Mango ginger.
As the name suggests, the rhizomes can hint at raw mango flavor, and while that may confuse people more, raw mango can taste a little like green apples that are not quite ripe. It is a little astringent but fresh.
This edible ginger is the lost child of the ginger and turmeric marriage. The rhizomes can be used in chutneys, sauces, pickles, stir-fry, and more. Anywhere you can grow the common ginger, you can also grow this plant.
The plant is closely related to turmeric and shares the color of young turmeric but has the scent and flavor of a mild version of common ginger.
9. Native ginger.
This is a close relative of common ginger. All parts of the plant are edible, even the blue seed berries. These berries are why another name for this edible ginger is Blue ginger.
It is a traditional bush food plant of the indigenous peoples of eastern Australia, and it can be found from the south coast of NSW to Cape York in far north QLD.
The berries can aid with salivation and help quench the thirst for a short time. The berries are chewed, and the seeds are spat out.
It is very hardy, prefers full shade in the tropics, and will tolerate more sun the further you are from the equator.
The native ginger is closely related to the galangal or Thai ginger, being part of the Alpinia genus. There is a common theme of the medicinal potential of the plants within this genus; because of this, they are worth a place in a self-sufficient backyard garden.
10. Red ginger lily.
Also known as the torch ginger, this plant has large edible flowers. They are best used before the flower opens and can be used in stir fry dishes.
The stalks of the plant can also be cut up and cooked in curries, soups, and slow cooker meals. It seems a shame to take such a lovely flower to eat, but they can be prolific and will need control if grown in humid tropical climates.
The plant belongs to the etlingera genus in the Zingiberaceae family. It is a tall plant at 15 ft or five mtrs. It makes the list of the tallest gingers and can be invasive as noted here.
|Hidden Ginger||8-11||Rhizomes, acrid|
|Indian head Ginger||8-11||Roots, Flowers|
|Native Ginger||8-11||All, including fruits|
|Red Ginger lily||9-11||All|
11. Round rooted galangal.
This is a small ginger with variegated leaves. Also known as peacock ginger, it has all edible parts. The rhizomes can be cooked, and the leaves can be eaten raw or steamed.
The rhizomes are far smaller than common ginger, and the plant can be quite low to the ground with a more open leaf that faces up rather than the typical ginger habit of growing and then leaning over.
The plant belongs to the Kaempferia genus and is also known as peacock ginger.
It is a great ground cover plant for areas that seem to be missing something, and it is shade tolerant.
12. Shell ginger.
This ginger can get tall at 10ft, but depending on the location can be far lower. It is a beautiful plant that is used extensively in landscaping. This is probably because the leaves can be striking with variegated stripes that are random in pattern.
The edible parts of this plant are the leaves that can be used in teas that double as tonics, and the leaves can also be steamed. Like bamboo shoots, the young leaf shoots can be cut and boiled.
This plant is/was used extensively in Japanese cuisine.
The plant is part of the Alpinia genus that also holds the galangal. The medicinal uses of this plant are well researched, as discussed below.
The Japanese have an extensive history of using this plant in their diet, and the residents of Okinawa are now believed to be living proof that this plant has a high potential for anti-aging properties.
The University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa studied the Shell Ginger and concluded that culinary Alpinia zerumbet extends animal lifespan by 22.6%.
This research was undertaken because the area of Okinawa is home to 4-5 times as many centenarians as Western countries. What was found is the culinary shell ginger may contribute to a long life.
13. Shell flower ginger.
This is also called dwarf cardamom. The edible parts of this plant are the leaves, which are used in food wrapping during cooking.
These leaves have a spicy scent similar to the cardamom pods from the True Cardamom plant. It is unknown if the roots have any eating qualities, and our plants on site do not grow large rhizomes at all.
They are tough plants that serve as screening hedges and will tolerate full sun.
14. Thai ginger.
This is also known as Galangal and is a wonderful spice to grow. It has several names that it goes by, and they include blue ginger and Thai ginseng ginger.
It is a tall plant with large-ish rhizomes that clump. It has extensive culinary uses in Thai cooking and has an entirely different smell from common ginger, even though they are closely related.
The rhizomes can be peeled, dehydrated, powdered, and added to many recipes, including sweet items like smoothies and savory dishes. It is a very versatile ingredient used extensively in our kitchen. We have a dedicated article on “growing and caring for galangal plants” for you to explore further.
Curcuma longa belongs to the curcuma genus, a sister genus of the zingiber. It is a well-known spice with as many uses in the culinary world as it does in medicine. The entire plant can be used for many purposes.
In India, the leaves are called Haldi leaves, and Manjal leaves. They are used as wrapping in steamed rice dishes flavored with cardamom and sweetened coconut.
They can also be dehydrated and powdered, then used as a seasoning in many recipes. The powdered leaves go well with kaffir lime, fruit zest, leaf, lemongrass, coconut milk, chilis, and others.
|Round rooted Galangal||8-11||All|
|Shell Ginger||7*-11||Leaves, rest uncertain|
|Shell flower Ginger||7*-11||Leaves, rest unknown|
|Thai Ginger||7*-11||All, exceptional|
16. Wild ginger.
This plant is not related to the true gingers but has aromatic similarities to the ginger. This is where the connections end. Do not mistake this plant for ginger, and please read on.
This little plant has had a recent chequered history because of a few people who suffered kidney damage from diet pills that contained similar components in this plant.
It is indeed edible, but for brevity, it is safe to say that the leaves can be used in teas with care. The component that can cause issues is Aristolochic acid, and it is a diuretic.
If the leaves are consumed, they are unlikely to cause problems because the amount of this acid in the leaves is minimal. If the leaves are used in a tea, there is almost no chance of harm because the acid is, for all intent, insoluble in water.
The leaves are tossed after making the beverage. The plant was used historically by Native Americans for medicinal purposes.
There is a good article here on this plant that says everything you need to know on this ginger. Personally, we see no need to use it (and wouldn’t personally) but have listed it for informational purposes only.
17. White ginger.
This edible ginger is a member of the Zingiberaceae family and belongs to the hedychium genus, a sister genus to the zingiber. It has edible rhizomes that are both edible and medicinal. However, this plant has the potential to be invasive.
It has already attained this level of growth in many places, and it is considered that the culinary and medicinal properties do not outweigh the plant’s invasive behavior and potential.
It is listed as a restricted plant in Queensland, Australia.
18. Zedoary ginger.
This plant resembles the well-known turmeric plant and can be mistaken for the same. Culinary uses of this plant are based around the rhizome that is quite pale/white compared to the yellow/orange of turmeric.
The rhizomes contain reasonable amounts of starch that can be extracted the same way as arrowroot; the process is described in an article with an accompanying video. It is titled “How to make arrowroot powder with canna edulis.”
The starch in this ginger can replace arrowroot starch if required. The rhizomes can be distilled to obtain essential oils that have medicinal value.
This is a member of the Zingiberaceae family. The edible parts of this plant are the young shoots, young flower buds, and fruits. The fruit is considered a delicacy and is eaten raw, cooked, or candied. When young, the fruits can be cooked with rice.
This plant is known for its seed pods that are used in cuisine. It is a revered spice that ranks as the third most expensive spice.
Most people only recognize the dried seeds as the useful part of this plant, but studies of the fruit that envelops the seeds have shown great medicinal potential.
This creates an interesting conflict because the supply pressure for obtaining the seed may limit the medicinal benefits being harnessed unless synthetic versions can be made of these compounds.
The leaves of this plant can be cooked and eaten as greens, and the roots can be boiled and used, similar to potatoes. The flowers are also able to be used.
21. Chinese keys
This is a plant from the Boesenbergia genera under the Zingiberaceae family.
It is also called finger root at times. It has historical use throughout East Asia as a food source and a medicinal plant. The root, or rhizome, is different from most other gingers in that this plant has carrot-like tubers that grow downwards like the fingers of a hand pushing into the soil.
|Wild Ginger (read data ^)||4-8||Leaves in teas #|
|Zedoary Ginger||7-11||All, (starch)|
|Wresah||8-11||Young shoots, flowers, fruits|
|Black Cardamom||9-11**||All, exceptional|
Edible Ornamental Gingers are one group of plants that you should consider adding to your staples. The information above shows the value of ginger as food and possibly more so as a source of medicinal components.
A wise man once said something about making food your medicine and your medicine your food. Maybe he was talking about the edible ornamental gingers.
For a curated list of five edible gingers where all plant parts are edible, “5 edible gingers for a self-sufficient backyard” is worth a look. If you live in a small space, “6 gingers to suit a balcony herb garden” is for you.
The information in this website has been compiled from reliable sources, such as reference works on medicinal plants. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment and selfsufficienthomelife.com do not purport to provide any medical advice. Readers should always consult his/her physician before using or consuming a plant for any medicinal purposes.
Article by Tim Blanch for TheTropicalHomestead.com. He is a qualified Permaculture designer.