Avon asks which gingers are edible:
I read your article in the recent Heirloom Gardener Magazine with great interest because I have grown ginger on and off for many years, especially when I lived in LA but have also grown it in pots indoors. My plants were made up mostly of leaves and I always wondered if those leaves were safe to eat. You said that they are and I am wondering if you have any reservations at all about eating them or using them for flavor, much like a bay leaf.
Also are all ginger plants the same or might some have toxic leaves?
Thank you for your time. (I did sign up for your newsletters and look forward to receiving them.)
First of all, it’s a great idea to grow your own ginger and I very much enjoyed having the chance to write for Heirloom Gardener magazine.
My article ended up making the front cover:
One reason to grow your own ginger is you don’t always know how store-bought ginger is being produced:
“Farmers in Shandong have been overusing an illegal and highly toxic pesticide to grow ginger for years on end, adding yet another concern to the country’s growing list of food scandals.
An investigative report by China Central Television (CCTV), which aired on Saturday, discovered farmers in Weifang city had been using the pesticide aldicarb “three to six times” above the recommended level. The pesticide is not approved for use on ginger.
Aldicarb – branded in China as Shennongdan – is a highly poisonous carbamate pesticide that the Ministry of Agriculture says can be only used on cotton, tobacco, peanuts, roses and sweet potatoes, albeit under strict controls.
Exposure in high quantities can lead to dizziness, blurred vision, nausea and respiratory failure. Just 50 milligrams of aldicarb is enough to kill a person weighing 50kg, the report said.
The CCTV report said farmers in Weifang had been using 120 to 300kg of the pesticide per hectare, nearly three to six times above the level considered safe.
One farmer interviewed by CCTV said she was aware of aldicarb’s toxicity and did not use it on ginger that her family ate. Another said he had been using aldicarb for more than 20 years since it was first introduced to the market.”
But Avon isn’t asking about toxic chemicals in store-bought ginger. She wants to know if all ginger plants are edible.
Let’s get digging.
Ornamental Gingers and Edible Gingers
When I worked in a plant nursery owned by some good friends of mine, I got to meet a lot of beautiful gingers. They had spiral gingers and butterfly gingers, shampoo gingers and blue gingers… it was a cornucopia of wonderful gingers.
Unfortunately, these were all “ornamental” types. Though that doesn’t mean they aren’t edible.
Many of the ornamental varieties are edible in certain ways. For example, butterfly ginger (Hedychium coronarium) is reported to have edible roots and blooms.
Shampoo ginger (Zingiber zerumbet) has edible roots but they taste bitter and are not worth eating. Trust me. I’ve tried them.
The “cardamom ginger” often sold in Florida (Alpinia calcarata), though it’s not the true cardamom, has leaves that have an earthy flavor and can be used like bay or cumin.
Shell ginger (Alpinia zerumbet) has leaves that make a tasty tea.
Common ginger and its cousin turmeric are edible in all their parts, so if you have those – use them however you like. The leaves are coarse in texture, so they’re not good in salads, but they are good to add seasoning to dishes and for tea.
Torch Ginger has edible uses as well. According to Hawaiian Plants and Tropical Flowers: “The unopened flower buds are edible and very flavorful, and they are used in Southeast Asian cooking.”
As for toxic leaves on ornamental ginger species, I cannot find any reports of poisonous ornamental gingers. I have heard none of them are toxic but I cannot say for sure. It’s safer to stick to eating known edible species. Ginger is a friendly family of plants but you never know.
Thanks for writing, Avon, and may your thumbs always be green.
For everyone else, you can subscribe to Heirloom Gardener magazine here. It’s a beautiful publication.
*Ginger image by Julian Fong. CC License.