Ginger - route to good health.
During last autumn, I selected a succulent "hand" of ginger from the greengrocers. I made sure that it had at least two stout, yellow growing-buds and was free of bruising and white fungal growth and any signs of shrivelling.
I potted it up in a mixture of two-parts potting compost and one-part vermiculite, with the buds poking just above the mixture and kept it under plastic to keep warm.
When I say a "hand" of ginger I am referring to the botanical description of the rhizome of Zingiber officinale, for it truly does represent a swollen hand with chubby deformed fingers.
This is the common ginger found in markets and grocery shops.
Once the tuber had made good root and stem growth, I planted it out under a Plumeria obtusa, which provides handsome shade to a tropical border in the lawn.
Ginger requires partial shade and long, hot, humid summers. It also enjoys a humus-rich, free-draining soil.
The latter, Bahrain's sandy soil happily provides. All you need to do is double dig a generous planting hole and then incorporate into the soil some manure and compost (preferably homemade).
Ginger is a creeping tropical perennial that produces single, reed-like stems which are dressed from head to toe in pea-green, lance-shaped leaves. These stems can reach between three to six feet in height. The white flowers are streaked purple and are borne in spikes.
This marvellous, aromatic herb hails from the moist tropical jungles of Southeast Asia. It boasts a long, rich history going back in time some 5,000 years when both the ancient Chinese and Indians valued it as a tonic root for all ailments including protection against marauding tigers.
Dried ginger had reached the Middle East and southern Europe before Roman times. In fact, it was one of the first spices to be introduced into Europe from Asia and was commonly (although wrongly) held to be an Arabian produce.
Although ginger had long been a trading commodity, its cultivation came into its own during the 13th and 14th centuries, when the Arabs journeyed to Zanzibar and Africa and planted the rhizomes.
Ginger root was so highly valued during the 14th century that a pound of ginger secured the value of an entire sheep.
It was the Spaniards who were responsible for introducing the live-rhizomes to the West Indies, where the plant felt very much at home.
The year 1547 witnessed the first exports of ginger being shipped from Jamaica to Spain.
Today, ginger can be found growing throughout the tropics and now in our Bahrain garden.
The Ancient Greeks and Romans exploited ginger as a flavouring and as a digestive aid. It was also a significant commodity in Europe during the Middle Ages and used for the same purposes. But in addition, to combat the Black Death, for it promotes sweating.
It is said, although I am not able to verify it, that Queen Elizabeth 1 of England put together the recipe for the gingerbread man which plays an important role at Christmas.
Ginger root is - to my mind at least - best taken fresh as a tea to alleviate a range of ailments including heartburn, bloating, nausea and flatulence.
A ginger tea is also taken to prevent motion sickness. It is often taken for treating colds, coughs and flu. Traditionalists also use it to treat arthritis, headache, fever and even toothache.
Ginger's anti-nausea properties have triggered the study for its use in treating post-operative nausea and for post-chemotherapy nausea.
You can purchase dried ginger rhizomes which are far superior to powdered ginger as you cannot be sure of the latter's quality.
The rhizome is first washed and then dried with the skin remaining on. It is known as black or green ginger and will, in all probability, have a dark, scaly appearance.
Another form of dried ginger requires the need to first parboil the rhizome and then spike it with a coating of lime preservative, this is then sliced prior to it being bleached white.
Before using dried root ginger you must first bruise it by hitting it with a rolling-pin or a heavy object. This action opens the fibres thus releasing it marvellous spicy pungency.
Ginger preserves take many forms, After scraping, the rhizome can be preserved in sherry, spirit or syrup. Some people enjoy it pickled in vinegar. Ginger preserved in sugar is of Chinese origin and is enjoyed as a sweetmeat and as flavouring in creams and cakes.
Buttermilk is wonderful when laced with fresh ginger.
Ginger root is also used in creating beverages such as ginger beer, ginger ale, ginger wine and cordials.
When using ginger, the hands should be fleshy and not at all shrivelled. The root should contain the minimum of fibre.
It is a superb ingredient for an entire range of culinary creations, including meat and fish dishes.
Ginger can be harvested after five months, when it is abundant with leaf. However, for a greater harvest, it is recommended that you wait for around eight to nine months.
Do consult you doctor before using ginger for medicinal purposes.
Copyright 2008 Gulf Daily News
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