If you had only a limited garden space and wanted to be self-sufficient in ginger, you would probably look for varieties that are the most useful as a plant. It would be great if the whole plant were edible.
It would also be nice if the flowers were attractive and lasted a long time. It would be even better if the plant had medicinal properties that science suggests are probable. Well, this list of five edible ginger plants has everything you want.
We are qualified Permaculture Designers, and we live in the wet tropics of northeast Australia, where several gingers grow natively.
While writing this article, we discovered that the Beehive ginger is one of these locals and is included in the list below.
It is nice to know that something so attractive is on our doorstep. Those who have visited this region may have seen this ginger at Mossman Gorge or in the Daintree Rainforest. Both of these locations are just a short drive from our home.
Why choose edible ginger varieties?
This site is geared towards the home gardener who intends to bring produce into the kitchen regularly. It is therefore centered around plants, structures, and designs that serve multiple purposes.
This list of edible gingers we have put together is taken from a much larger group that includes medicinal and edible varieties.
For this list, we have focused on plants that allow the entire plant to be used, meaning leaves, flowers, young shoots, and rhizomes. The bonus of these is they can be used as ornamentals or windbreaks for smaller plants.
They can fill a space under fruit trees or hide a fence. They are highly versatile, and this is why they have made this list.
Benefits of edible ginger varieties.
Many, if not most, edible ginger varieties offer the grower benefits beyond the visible. A growing body of scientific and medical studies is slowly revealing this plant family’s potential.
Of course, these properties have been known for generations within the local peoples, where any particular variety typically grows naturally.
With modern scientific methods, we are confirming the local’s knowledge and discovering huge medical potential to aid in treating many diseases and health problems. This benefit of growing edible gingers cannot be understated.
In each listed variety below, we discuss the growth habits of that particular variety. Where it fits into a self-sufficient backyard, the typical size it will be, and the climatic range it can be grown in.
This range will depend on the grower and the effort they wish to put into a particular plant. Cold zones demand you take protective measures over winter; tropical areas can just forget.
While we are talking about growing habits in this post and more extensive gardens, there are several smaller gingers that fit the edible category, and “6 gingers to suit a balcony herb garden” goes into all the details.
The next benefit is the landscape design potential that gingers bring. There is little that is new to discover in this department. However, it helps that a beautiful plant can be used for medicinal value and create healthy living spaces in your yard.
Here we discuss the culinary uses of each of the listed gingers. The varieties we present for you to consider in this article all share a common thing: the entire plant can be used in the kitchen, in one form or another.
5 Edible Ornamental Gingers.
- Zingiber officinale: True ginger we recognize from many farmers’ markets and the food malls/supermarkets.
- Alpinia galanga: Galangal is the name that you probably recognize. This plant is incredible, as you will discover below.
- Zingiber spectabile: The Beehive ginger. This spectacular flowering plant fits the very definition of what we are trying to present to you as an everything plant.
- Alpinia zerumbet : The Butterfly ginger. This variety can have either variegated or all-green leaves, and it has enormous potential.
- Etlingera elatior: Red Ginger lily. Also known as Torch lily, Ginger flower, and Torch ginger. It is a genuine landscape specimen.
1. Growth habits.
This edible ginger grows to about 3 ft or 1m high and has stems with narrow-bladed leaves. The stems consist of the rolled-up leaf bases that form the stalks.
It will grow in full shade in the tropics and full sun in sub-tropical-temperate climates. It can grow to temperatures as low as 15-20F or -5C ish. This extreme temperature is an outer limit and should be for the shortest time.
This edible ginger’s ability to survive in these temps is because while it is known as a perennial, it also loses its vegetative top at the end of the growing season. This season ends at the onset of cooler weather. “Growing ginger” gives more details on this variety.
The rhizomes can be left in the ground if the temperature is above freezing seasonally and should be lifted if grown in the coldest zones above. Soil conditions should be rich in humus and other organic matter and should not be over-fertilized.
It grows very well when covered by a good layer of mulch that is woody based. This is because this plant naturally grows in harmony with trees as overhead protection, so the natural mulch layers are more wood component based than grass or straw.
This can be said for all ginger varieties. For info on great mulch for ginger, this article details specifics.
2. Landscaping Potential.
This plant has seasonal landscaping uses because of the leaves’ annual wilting, including the stalks. When the plant is in full leaf, it can make a good edge plant for pathways and fill gaps or holes under trees.
Individual plants are taller than they are wide, so many rhizomes can be grown close together to form blocks of ginger that can help screen other things if desired.
The flowers are 1-2inch long cones on stalks about half the height or less of the tallest leaf when in bloom. It can be grown in pots successfully, aiding in the coldest climates with easier mobility if rhizomes are not lifted.
The most common use of this ginger plant is with the rhizome, which has a long history proving its value.
The ginger root can be cooked, dehydrated, powdered, and brewed; it can be sliced and candied, fermented, crushed, and cold stored, similar to garlic. It can also be juiced. The older the rhizome, the stronger the spicy taste.
The leaves can be used as food wraps, although they are long and thin, so this may be challenging. The young shoots can be used similarly to bamboo shoots, chopped finely, and then pureed and added into sauces.
When young, the flowers can be eaten raw, although we have not tried this yet.
Interestingly, this variety of ginger rhizomes contains approximately 45% starch that can be extracted using a process described and videoed in our article titled “How to make arrowroot powder.” This powder (video) is simply the starch component of a different rhizome related to the gingers.
1. Growth Habits.
Galangal, as well as being edible ginger, is an actual perennial plant that retains the leaf structure throughout the year, unlike the common edible ginger above. The plant can reach a height of 6-7 ft and forms slowly spreading clumps.
The plant will create a loose umbrella-like form as the tops lean out away from the center, but this has no pattern. This is a typical growth habit for most of the tall gingers. It can grow in USDA zones 7 to 11, with particular care required in the colder zones.
Galangal will tolerate full sun in the tropics but does better in semi-shaded areas. In sub-tropical situations it should take full sun without stress.
The flowers form at the tips of the leaf stems, and these are usually about half the height of the main leaf stalks. This ginger variety can be left in the ground until you require some in the kitchen.
It tolerates lifting and replanting if the moisture is maintained, and the tops have been trimmed to help with root stabilization.
2. Landscaping Potential.
Because this variety is essentially a perennial evergreen plant with some height, it can make a good fence-line blocking element; it can also be located to create a partial wind break for other plants and gardens.
It can be a bit untidy if allowed to do its own thing, so it will benefit from regular trimming. It is not a great pathway plant if the path is narrow because, as the described growth habits of this plant show above, the leaves will infringe on the pathway.
It could be used as a backdrop plant for a different ginger variety that is much lower, like the common ginger.
There are many uses for this plant, and as with every member of this list, the entire plant can be consumed or used in some beneficial way.
The rhizomes can be crushed, sliced, cut into chunks, dehydrated, powdered, and fermented. It can also be juiced and added to health drinks, similar to turmeric and ginger.
The leaves can be used as food wraps; they are able to be dehydrated and powdered, then used as a seasoning salt, and can be steamed with other vegetables to impart flavor. The leaves have been added to bathwater and are said to help with circulation.
1. Growth Habits.
This is a classic edible ornamental ginger plant. The leaf stems are similar in shape to many others, but their size sets this plant apart.
Height can be over 10 ft, and while these can be tall, the flowers are primarily under 2 ft high. The canopy of the leaf fronds creates a good amount of shade for the flowers. It is a non-aggressive clumping form of ginger that will slowly spread if allowed.
Keeping it under control is not difficult. The flowers can be 6-10 inches tall and grow at the end of a dedicated stalk that extends from the rhizome. The color can vary from green to deep red. It will grow in USDA zone 8-11 with care required in cooler climates.
It is a perennial that will have foliage throughout the year and is probably too large to pot grow, but some people may have done this.
2. Landscaping Potential.
This edible ginger plant will shine as a landscape centerpiece. The visual impact of the flowers being shaded from the overhead fronds can be delightful.
This plant tolerates full sun in the tropics but prefers partial shade. It should cope ok with full sun in cooler climates away from the tropics.
The cut flowers will last many days; the actual flower is a small orchid-like projection from the beehive-like bracts. These open sequentially from the base, work upwards, and rarely stay open for more than a day.
This ginger plant can fill a corner of a self-sufficient backyard and be left to its own devices if preferred. It can also fill voids beneath taller trees and be a good fence screen.
As with every edible ginger variety in this article, every part of this plant can be used. Even the flower bracts. These can be cooked as vegetables.
The young leaf shoots are eaten as part of a salad or where bamboo shoots are required, and the leaves can be used to add flavor to steamed vegetables. The leaves can be dried and powdered, then used as seasoning and flavoring.
The name Beehive ginger may not be derived from the flower bract shape but from the historical use of native peoples who crushed and pounded the roots into a paste and then smeared this onto exposed parts to possibly prevent bee stings when raiding hives.
The protection is assumed to be derived from the potent aromatic oils that this ginger variety has.
1. Growth Habits.
Butterfly ginger (shell ginger) is a clump-forming plant that reaches 8-10 ft high and has a 6ft spread. It can tolerate full sun in milder climates but does best in part shade in the tropics.
The leaves are evergreen, and the plant has rhizomes as a root system. The flowers form at the end of the leaf stem and open into a cascade of shell-like flowers; this is where it derives its name.
It will grow in USDA zones 8-11 with potential for zone 7 with care.
2. Landscaping Potential.
This plant has good landscaping uses because of its height. It can be used as a fence screening plant and a backdrop planting to smaller gardens along a pathway. It is low enough to grow beneath many trees and can fill gaps and voids.
If mulched well, it can be left to its devices with just a generous trim from time to time. The flowers are similar to the false cardamom plant and could be mistaken easily.
False cardamom leaves have a strong scent similar to the pod spice of true cardamom. These cardamom plants are members of the greater ginger plant family.
This edible ginger does not exhibit this spicy aroma. The flowers are followed by fruits along the same spike and change from yellow to red as they ripen.
This edible ginger variety featured heavily in the diet of Japanese people on the Islands of the Ryukyus, also known as the Okinawan Islands.
The plant grows naturally throughout these islands; unsurprisingly, shell ginger is broadly used in traditional Okinawan cuisine and as traditional herbal medicine.
1. Growth Habits.
This is a fast-growing edible ginger variety cultivated by the horticultural industry.
It can form dense thickets where the flowers will continue to develop all year long, allowing for continual harvest, so cut flowers are one of the main reasons for the gardening industry’s interest.
It will grow from both seed and rhizome. However, if grown from seed, it can take several years to be a mature plant. It can grow to over 12ft high in optimum conditions and is a spectacular plant.
The leaves can be shredded in strong winds, so the plant may suffer somewhat if the plant is in an exposed site. It is shallow-rooted, similar to most edible gingers, and will greatly benefit from good quality mulch.
The flowers form from separate stems that emerge from the rhizome; when fully developed, they can stand 3-4 ft tall. The climatic preferences of this plant are tropical, but they will grow to zone 7 with a lot of care.
Greenhouses and sheltered closed in areas are recommended. In the tropics, it can be vigorous and has even been declared an invasive species on the cabi.org site.
With the information from that link, we suggest shredding and composting any plant matter that has been trimmed, even though the plant only propagates through seed and root.
2. Landscaping Potential.
This ginger requires space; if you have some, this may be a plant for you. It can screen buildings and structures, it will hide unsightly fences, and it can be a central display plant for a tropical feel to your yard.
As mentioned above, this ginger has the potential to become a pest in sensitive areas, so we recommend keeping tabs on your plant and monitoring waterways if your property backs onto a creek or waterway.
Because of its height, this plant will do best if it is sheltered from strong winds because of its size.
This edible ginger plant is special. Before the flowers open, you can cut them and prepare them as an ingredient in stir-fry or a salad. It is very widely used in this way throughout Southeast Asia.
Western countries see it as a more valuable cut flower than a food source. The young flower bulbs can be pureed before they open, which can be frozen as a storage method.
This puree can oxidize, so adding a mix of 50% ascorbic acid and 50% citric acid to the puree is recommended to help retain color.
The leaves can be used as food wrap, dried and powdered, then used as a vegetable salt, a seasoning, and flavor additive to cooking. The fruits can be eaten raw or candied if desired. The rhizomes are intensely aromatic and can be used similarly to other ginger varieties.
The edible ginger plants described above deserve consideration for a place in your self-sufficient backyard garden.
Their benefits are numerous, and they can be easy to look after depending on where you live. The larger varieties can be a good source of mulch for the garden and edible ginger.
We have three edible ginger plants in our yard and will look at a fourth. The Torch ginger is too large for our 1/4 acre block, so it will have to be missed, but we will add others as we go along.
If you are considering any of these varieties, they will all benefit from mulch and care. If you want to explore more gingers, we have an article on 21 edible gingers that will keep you busy.
Article by Tim Blanch for TheTropicalHomestead.com. He is a qualified Permaculture designer.