Are Any Ornamental Gingers Edible? (Some are)

watering ginger plants

The ginger plant family is large, and most of the attention from people falls on just a couple of proven varieties like common ginger, turmeric, and galangal. However, there can be some confusion around what ginger is edible, and what isn’t edible. This post highlights several ornamental ginger plants that are edible.

The ginger varieties that we have information on are listed as follows…

  • Red Ginger
  • Shell Flower Ginger
  • Peacock Ginger
  • White Ginger
  • Spiral Ginger

Is Red Ginger Edible?

Red ginger rhizomes.

Red ginger is commonly grown in Southeast Asia and is used as a food source. It is grown the same way as you would the common edible ginger and grows to a similar height.

Red Ginger is edible and is a very useful plant for the cultures that grow it.

In cooler climates, plant it in early spring to ensure enough warm weather to grow a decent crop of rhizomes. In tropical climates, it can be planted any time. It can take 8-9 months from planting to harvest. the rhizomes can be stored and replanted the following season.

What parts of the red ginger are edible?

  1. Rhizomes.
  2. Stems.
  3. Shoots.
  4. Leaves.

How are the edible parts of red ginger used?

1. Rhizomes.

The rhizomes of the red ginger can be used just like the common ginger. It is used in soups, fermented in health drinks, and can be pickled in vinegars. The pickled ginger slices can be enjoyed with cold drinks similar to pickled gherkin. It is suggested that this has health benefits.

2. Stems.

The stems are able to be used if sliced thinly and used in stir-fry. Young stems are best for this to avoid toughness in the stalks. While not a common food item, it is useful information to file away for a time when you are looking for something a bit different in the kitchen.

3. Shoots.

These can be eaten as a vegetable. They are able to be used in stir fry and in salads. Any meal that calls for bamboo shoots can use the shoots. The taste will be different, but the fresh crunch should be enjoyable.

4. Leaves.

The leaves of the red ginger can be dried and powdered as a green spicy additive to soups and similar. They can be used as food wraps in steamed dishes and when chopped finely can be added as flavoring to rice dishes.

Can red ginger flowers be eaten?

At the time of writing this post, there is no reference we can find to the potential edibility of the flowers. There is a common theme with edible gingers for having edible flowers.

So, considering that the vast majority of ginger flowers are edible, and also considering that all other parts of this ginger variety are edible, it is possible that the flowers are also the same. For safety, we don’t recommend eating them until confirmation is presented.

Is Shell Flower Ginger edible?

butterfly ginger
Young Shell Flower

This ginger is also known as the dwarf cardamom or false cardamom. The plant has edible leaves; however, the roots of the plant don’t usually form the typical large rhizome that we all know as the common ginger.

The leaves smell similar to the cardamom pod spice that is used in cooking, and this scent is expressed when the leaves are crushed. It is a wonderful scent, and the plant is worth growing just for the opportunity to crush a leaf every now and then. The leaves can be dried and crushed into a powder and used as a flavoring, and fresh leaves can be used to wrap fish to be steamed.

Rice can also be flavored with thinly chopped leaves. Fresh and dried leaves can be made into a refreshing tea along with common ginger and lemongrass.

The plant grows about 4 ft high and is an evergreen. Leaves can be harvested all year. This variety of cardamom does not give the spice pods that are world-renowned, but it does grow fruits after flowering that have seeds. These seeds taste terrible.

Our recommendation…. Don’t buy this plant for the seeds, regrets will be had.

The flowers are prolific and edible and can be eaten in a salad. They can even be candied and used as a light desert.

How often does shell ginger bloom?

Shell ginger blooms from late spring into and into late summer. The edible ginger flowers don’t all arrive at once but are spread over the season. The flowers don’t last for long, and they open along the flower spike over a few days. This is the fruit stage that leads into seeds.

There is no reference to the fruit being edible, and it is likely that they would be unpleasant just like the seeds.

How is shell ginger propagated?

The plant can be divided similar to lemongrass clumps. This is how we have spread it along some of our fence line. It is a useful plant as a hedge and gives plenty of green matter to use as mulch. It will slowly spread in all directions and if left unchecked can be a slight landscaping problem near other plants. It can be considered a crowder rather than a spreader.

The Peacock Ginger.

peacock ginger
Great ground cover

This little ginger is a member of the Kaempferia genus and is one of the smallest of the ginger family. Every part of the Peacock Ginger is edible, but because of its small size it doesn’t give a large harvest.

It is a useful filler plant in a self-sufficient food garden and can give good shade to the soil as a living ground cover. It dies back each winter in the classic ginger fashion and sprouts when warm weather returns.

It spreads easily through rhizomes and is not a difficult plant to manage. Because this plant is so low to the ground, there is no discernable leaf stalk to speak of, so the edible parts list is limited, and these are listed below.

  1. Rhizomes
  2. Leaves

How are the edible parts of the peacock ginger used?

1. Rhizomes.

The rhizomes can be cooked and used as vegetables. They have similar flavor (maybe a bit hotter) to the greater galangal and can be used to flavor rice dishes, so they can replace galangal if required. You will need a few rhizomes for a meal due to the small size.

2. Leaves.

The leaves of this plant can be used as food wrap, or a green leaf edible platter for looks. The leaf can be steamed and treated the same as a leafy vegetable with a spicy flavor. As with many gingers, the leaves can be dehydrated and powdered. This can be used as an ingredient in cooking of many recipes. The leaves can also be chopped and added to salads.

Peacock ginger varieties.

This is a reasonably large family of plants that fall into the Kaempferia genus and there is little information of the individual members and their edibility potential. There are 29 accepted species in this group, and it appears they all have similar prone growth habits and rhizomes. All references about edible gingers and this family suggest they hold similar attributes to taste and texture.

What parts of the White Ginger are edible?

White Gingers in flower

Most parts of the White Ginger are edible and while this plant has potential to be invasive, it has been a part of traditional diets in many Southeast Asian countries for generations.

Hedychium flavescens is a very attractive plant that falls under the name of White ginger, but this name can also refer to H. flavum, H. coronarium or H. oblongum. There is a lot of confusion around these plants and has been for over 30 years.

The information below can be considered applicable for all the varieties above.

These plants have the potential for aggressive growth behavior in your garden; and while it is well known for being lovely to look at and has potential to get out of control, it is also very useful in the kitchen.

To break down just how useful this plant is, the list below details what parts of the plant are edible.

  1. Rhizome
  2. Young shoots
  3. Leaf stalks
  4. Leaves
  5. Flowers

How are the edible parts of White Ginger used?

1. White ginger rhizomes.

Rhizomes of the white ginger are edible and can be used in the same way you would use the common ginger root. It has historically been used as a food source in India and has been referred as a famine plant. It can be cooked.

It has been spread into many western countries where it has become invasive and is now considered a pest. This is indicative of a plant that is hardy, and very adaptable.

2. White ginger shoots.

The young shoots are edible, and they pop up out of the ground from the rhizome that look similar to young bamboo shoots. Add them to stir-fry meals, add to salads, and cold vegetable dishes.

3. White ginger leaf stalks.

The edible leaf stalks of the White Ginger can be used in stir-fry meals. The younger stems are best used as the older ones can be drier and less palatable. The high percentage of cellulose in older stems allows them to be used for paper.

4. White ginger leaves.

The leaves of this ginger can be used a food wrap in sticky rice dishes. They can also be dehydrated and used as a seasoning similar to a vegetable salt.

The leaves have also traditionally been used for many medicinal purposes, but the invasive potential of this plant hinders any willingness to investigate the full medicinal potential.

5. Flowers and buds.

The flowers of the White Ginger are edible as are the buds. They can be added to salads and used as a light colorful garnish to cooked-rice dishes. The flowers can be used in teas and can also be fermented.

The flowers can be highly perfumed as they contain useful amounts of essential oils.

Spiral Ginger.

Spiral Ginger

The only part of the Spiral Ginger that is safely edible is the flowers. The plant is known to be of medicinal value more so than as a food plant.

The flowers are known to be edible and are said to have a flavor similar to slightly sour lettuce with a nice crunch.

The rhizome is used culturally as a medicinal item, and it is difficult to find references about it being used as a food source. The taste is said to be faint and the texture not noteworthy. All parts of the plant have medicinal value according to the traditional uses of this plant.

The plant is also known as Indian head ginger, Cane reed, Malay ginger, Spiral flag, and Insulin plant. It differs from the true gingers in propagation methods.

What is Spiral Ginger good for?

This plant is more suited to for use as an ornamental ginger and can fill spots in the garden that need something different. It is very hardy, and easy to manage so it will suit the gardener who wants the visual enjoyment without the unnecessary workload that some plants demand.

It is able to grow from stem cuttings and these are laid in shallow trenches and covered, and the plant will shoot if conditions are favorable.

This can either be a good thing, or a terrible issue if you decide to throw green cuttings into a mulch pile or a slow compost heap because this may spread the plant into areas where you don’t want it or need it.

If you are looking for edible gingers, this plant is not for you. It is a good landscape plant, but it is not worth growing as a food source if your backyard is biased towards self-sufficiency.

Does spiral ginger grow all year?

The spiral ginger is a great landscaping ginger because it grows all year round, like many of the ornamental gingers. It is sensitive to cold just like most gingers and will die off if planted in colder climates.

Is spiral ginger considered invasive?

Not that we are aware of. It is able to be propagated through cuttings and this could be an issue if not monitored but this ginger appears to be non-aggressive in its growth habits.

This ginger is also used as a medicinal plant and is typical of the ginger plant group.

Some closing comments.

There are far too many instances of completely separate cultures using gingers as a source of medicines and treatments for many varied health problems to simply ignore the potential qualities of the plants.

The ginger family is one large grouping that holds many valuable sources of food, spice, and medicine. For a curated list of edible gingers to investigate, “5 types of edible gingers for a self-sufficient food garden” is recommended.

Article by Tim Blanch for TheTropicalHomestead.com. He is a qualified Permaculture designer.