There are many home gardeners that have tried their hand at raising ginger as it is quite easy to grow, even indoor. However, before you even consider such a thing, it is essential to understand that not all ginger are the same.
Hence, what are the type of edible ginger? The Butterfly, Shell, Hawaiian, and Cardamom ginger varieties are all edible despite, some of them, not being grown for culinary purposes. Wild ginger, on the other hand, should never be eaten.
Ginger is a very pleasant and tasty plant, and a lot of people like to take advantage of its flavor. However, which one do you usually eat and what about the others? Are they better?
Is All Ginger Edible?
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On the surface, all species of the ginger plant appear to be edible. Upon searching, we cannot find any cases in which a person was poisoned by ginger. However, some varieties of the plant are not intended for culinary use. Some of these strains are cultivated for their ornamental value, as their flowers can be quite lovely.
For example, most people seem to agree that shampoo ginger (zingiber zerumbet) is not a good one for eating. It won’t poison you, but it does have a bitter taste that many people do not like. That’s just one example of why you should probably stick with ginger types that have been cultivated for eating.
The Problem Of Wild Ginger
Although true ginger is not poisonous, there is a wild plant that can be dangerously confusing. “Wild ginger”, also known as Asarum, is fairly common in North America and even more in Asia, but its name is not appropriate.
All true gingers are classified in the family Zingiberaceae, but the wild gingers belong to another family of plants called Aristolochiaceae. So, here is the important part: wild ginger is poisonous. All members of this family will contain a toxin called aristolochic acid. These kinds of poisons, despite not being fatal, can cause serious kidney damage and other chronic diseases.
Although wild ginger is not sold in stores, it is sometimes sold as a medicinal herb. Although this plant has a long history of medicinal use (in a small amount), the same can be said for most poisonous plants. However, these kinds of medicines require an expert for safe use, so I would avoid them altogether.
8 Types Of Ginger: Are They Edible?
Remember that when I mention ginger, I mean that yellow (sometimes pink or blue) pale orange that comes in a variety of interesting shapes that you find at the supermarket. These are actually the roots of the ginger herb.
Similarly to potato, the ginger plant (that, from the outside it does appear as a common plant with some pretty flowers) develops thick roots that, for centuries, are harvested and used mainly as a spice in our plates. Despite not being very common, you can also eat the leaves and some parts of the stems of ginger plants.
Let’s discuss the kinds and part of ginger that are safe to eat.
Zingiber officinale, the common “supermarket ginger” is most often a has always been the most popular choice for cooking. It is of course edible! Believe it or not, you can usually plant quite easily supermarket ginger in a pot indoor. If it is given the right conditions, it will grow into a full-size plant. There are many strains in the Zingiberaceae family (the officinale is the most famous) so don’t worry about a little variation. Most of them come from India or China and will be named accordingly.
Butterfly ginger is also very popular. This one is most often used as a houseplant due to its fragrant odor. It is one of the more strong-smelling varieties, and its odor is said to fill a room with ease. All parts of this ginger variety are edible, though the roots and flowers are the most commonly used. Another great thing about butterfly ginger is the fact that it can be found in various colors.
Shell ginger is another type that you might encounter. It gets its name from the flowers of the plant, which look as if they are encased in a shell. Obviously, it doesn’t have a hard protective shell, so don’t get confused. This one is frequently used in traditional medicine and cuisine of China and Japan. So it is edible as also discussed in some studies.
Their leaves are sometimes be used to wrap rice balls and similar things, and scientists have discovered that its antioxidant properties can help prolong your life. I would not eat the leaves directly (as in salads), just due to their rough textures. Better to boil them so they release their useful essential oils in tea.
Torch ginger (or Hawaiian ginger) is another ginger type grown as ornamental herbs (in the west) and for its medicinal purposes and food flavoring (so yes, it is edible) in Eastern World as discussed in this scientific publication. More precisely, in Indonesia, the roots of this herb, the stems, the leaves, and even the flowers are often not only (the roots) to enhance the flavor of a large variety of dishes, but also as food preservatives, and treat superficial wounds.
This ginger type is best suited to a tropical climate, making it a somewhat poor choice for most home cultivators. No evidence where found of such
Cardamom Ginger is one of the best spice varieties. It is named because of its scent and taste, similar to that of another fragrant herb called cardamom. Incidentally, true cardamom is a member of the Zingiberaceae family like the true gingers, which explains the similarity. If you want something that maximizes the pleasant scent of this plant, this one might be your best choice. It also gives you a unique flavor which is almost like two herbs in one.
The flowers of this variety are also very well known. This is because, differently from the other ginger varieties, they are quite impressive with their large size and vibrant red color. The flower of torch gingers are edible, usually used in Eastern Cuisine in stir fry recipes as shown below.
Golden Brush ginger (also called dwarf orange ginger) is smaller in size than other ginger varieties (it is a dwarf variety). Its name comes from the bright color of its leaves, that develops in a yellow/golden cones. This is a great indoor plant, that, like the previous is mainly grown in pots for ornamental purposes. It is relatively hard to find (you might need to visit a nursery for it). Despite no information was found on this type of ginger, given its use as mainly/exclusively ornamental plant, I would not advice eating its roots as you would do with the Zingiber officinale.
Spiral Ginger is a great landscape herb. It is very easy to growth, also in pot. This plant does not require fertilizer, or special irrigation. Most importantly its flowers are really taste (sweet) while its roots are not normally eaten as discussed by the University of Florida. Hence, another eatable one.
Shampoo ginger is a type of ginger that enjoy the shady area and can easily thrive in a pot either indoor or outdoor. Differently from the other ornamental ginger, the shampoo root variety is edible and be used for cooking commonly in the Hawaii region. However, if you are used to the common zingiber officinale, the shampoo variety is definitely bitter. Just of out of curiosity, its name is due to the liquid that produced, when its flower is squeezed. this is used to actually produce shampoo.
Disclaimer: after digging and going beyond what can be found in EU and USA market, there are dozens and dozens variety of ginger out there. This list, depsite being broad, just cover those more commonly found and man grown around the world. However, especially if you live in a tropical area chances that, especially in forest, you can find even more species here not mentioned.
What to do then? In this case, snap a picture of them, identify the ginger variety for free, and then check whether is edible or not.
Is Ginger Safe For Pets?
Some people might be wondering if dogs, cats, and other pets can safely eat ginger. In general, it is not a good idea to give your pets spicy food, so we would advise against giving your pets large amounts of this plant. That being said, ginger does have some medicinal benefit for dogs and cats, serving as a digestive aid.
If you are interested in using ginger for this kind of thing, we would strongly suggest that you start by trying a small amount first. If your pet can eat a tiny amount without problems, give them just a tiny bit more. This is similar to the way in which the military teaches people to test wild plants before eating them. Although ginger isn’t toxic to pets, some of them can suffer allergic reactions.
I really hope you learned a few things from this article and that you and yours will find it useful. To recap, let’s go over the key takeaways:
- All types of ginger are edible, as long as they are true ginger
- Some varieties taste better than others, as not all gingers are cultivated for food
- The “wild ginger” plant is not actually ginger and it is poisonous
- There are many varieties of ginger, and many of them have similar properties
- Flowers and roots are the most commonly eaten part
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