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Tropical ginger is an herbaceous perennial measuring 15-40 centimeters tall. It has broad light green leaves that are encased in distinctive red sheaths and scarlet orchid-like flowers. Underground, Tropical ginger produces a central rhizome with finger-shaped tubers that stretch out from it like a hand. They are 5-10 centimeters long and have a moderately soft, watery texture. The roots of Tropical ginger may be foraged in the dry season after the plant goes dormant and loses its leaves. Its flavor is similar to common ginger but sweeter and much less pungent.
In the wild, Tropical ginger is available in the fall.
Tropical ginger grows in the monsoonal climates of the South Pacific where it is prevalent in the region’s herbal medicine and cuisine. There it is also known as Thai ginger, Chinese ginger, Chinese keys, Fingerroot, Krachai, Resurrection Lily, and Tropical Crocus. Tropical ginger is botanically classified as Boesenbergia rotunda, and is in the same family as common ginger and turmeric. The edible rhizome is sweet and mild and may be yellow, black or red depending upon the variety. In the west, Tropical ginger is often grown in greenhouses as an ornamental plant.
Tropical ginger is a natural appetite stimulant and has antifungal and antiparasitic properties. It may be used to treat rheumatism, muscle pain, fever, gout, gastrointestinal disorders, flatulence, stomach ache, dyspepsia, and peptic ulcer.
To use fresh Tropical ginger peel off the outer brown skin and grate, mince or slice the root thinly. It may be used raw, but is commonly found pickled or frozen. The pungent yet sweet flavor is excellent for flavoring Thai soups and is a staple in Cambodian curry pastes and in the traditional Fish Amok. Tropical ginger compliments garlic, scallions, soy sauce, sesame, cilantro, mint, honey, carrot, peppers, coconut, lime, mango, chocolate, cream, turmeric, lemongrass, chicken, shellfish, curries and most Asian cuisines.
In Indonesia, Tropical ginger is used to prepare “jamu,” a traditional tonic given to women after childbirth. In Thai folk medicine it is used as an aphrodisiac.
Tropical ginger is native to southern China and West Malaysia. It grows for five months during the monsoon season and then has a natural dormant period during the dry season. Tropical ginger prefers well-drained soil and partial to full shade.