I mean — we’re here, right? And what is the Internet if not the appropriate site for overdoing it with your particular esoteric mania? So let’s start this thing all the way back.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is one of the most versatile and most widely used flavorings throughout the world. It has enticed human tongues from ancient times to the present. Ginger’s aromatic and pungent qualities can enhance both sweet and savory dishes. Ginger has also been widely used as a medicinal plant for treating fever, pain, nausea, and all manner of stomach ailments.
The word “ginger” can be traced to the Sanskirt srngaveram, meaning, roughly, “having a body like antlers.” Consider the form of a length of ginger root at your farmer’s market or grocery store and it’s easy to see the origin of the antler metaphor.
The ginger we drink or eat is just part of the overall Zingiber officinale organism. It is the plant’s underground-growing root. In the world of botany, this kind of root is known as a rhizome. The rhizome not only anchors the plant in the soil; it is also the method by which the organism reproduces. Ginger reproduces asexually. That is, individual plants maintain the survival of the species not by combining the DNA of two discrete parents, but instead by reproducing the genetic profile of a single “mother” plant. Rhizomes propagate, usually beneath the soil, by forming new roots.
Should any section of ginger’s rhizomatous roots be separated from the rest, that newly severed portion is, under most circumstances, able to become another healthy plant all by itself. Ginger’s fleshy roots are a storehouse of starches and nutrients that provide sustenance to the plant as it continues the work of surviving and growing. Hops, asparagus, and turmeric are all rhizomes as well.
It may be beyond the capabilities of science to pinpoint exactly where ginger first grew. But in all likelihood, it originated in Southeast Asia. A site like modern Indonesia’s Maluku Islands — known by geographers and merchants of less politically correct times as the “Spice Islands” — is probably the Edenic garden where wild ginger made its botanical debut. Once humans developed an appreciation for ginger and learned how to cultivate and store it, the plant spread quickly throughout China, India, and neighboring lands. Ginger is, of course, a mainstay of the cuisines of both of those great civilizations. Confucius, the formative, philosophical heavyweight of Chinese culture who lived from 551 – 479 BC, was, reportedly, “Never without ginger when he ate.”