Thursday, 23 March 2017
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Indian Gingers

Department of Botony,
University of Calicut
 

The word ‘ginger’ refers to the edible ginger of commerce, Zingiberofficinale whereas the term gingers is commonly used for the members of the family Zingiberaceae.

 

Adrakam sarva kandanaam” The old Sanskrit saying means every good quality is found in the ginger.

 
An overview:

The family Zingiberaceae are readily differentiated from other families in the order Zingiberales by its aromatic property and is the most diverse in terms of its utilization. The family is represented by about 53 genera and 1500 species, mostly distributed in the South and Southeast Asia. India has rich diversity of gingers with about 200 species belonging to 22 genera. In India they are mostly confined to the Northeast India, South India and Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

 

Zingiberaceae are generally considered as a spice family since it includes many spices such as cardamom, Amomum spp. (large cardamom) turmeric, Zingiber spp. etc. They are also well known for other uses like medicine, traditional, food, ornamental, cultural practices and rituals..

 

Present status:

Due to the immense demand for gingers, rhizomes as well as whole plants are being collected from the wild in huge quantities. This indiscriminate collection of rhizomes coupled with vanishing forests and grasslands resulted in the depletion of gingers in the wild. Unless some strong conservation measures are taken, many members will move to extinct category in the near future. As agreed by taxonomists the members can be better studied from living materials than from dried specimens. For many taxa our knowledge is still insufficient, even about the basic morphological characters often making the proper determinations difficult.

 
As a part of the DST project for the ‘Revision of Indian Zingiberaceae’ about 40% of live collections of gingers are maintained in the CUBG for further investigations. The present project supported by BGCI & HSBC through NBRI mainly aims to conserve Indian gingers in general and the following species in particular.
 
1. Target species for conservation:

i. Curcuma vamana Sabu & Mangaly*: Endemic to southern Western Ghats. Endangered in the natural habitats. In situ conservation measures are recommended.

 

ii. Hedychium greenii Smith : Endemic to NE India. Endangered due to overexploitation. A potential ornamental plant.

 

iii. Hedychium rubrum Rao & Verma: Domestication of this potential ornamental would be highly rewarding.

 

iv. Kaempferia scaposa Benth. : Endemic to Goa and adjacent areas. Need conservation measures to save the plant.

 

v. Paracautleya bhatii R.M. Sm.*: Narrow endemic to Udupi near Manipal in Karnataka. Due to the developmental activities in the city suburbs the habitat is likely to be disturbed and hence it must be protected through in situ measures.

 
vi. Zingiber wightianum Thw.: Endangerd due to deforestation and now rare in the natural habitat.
* Targeted for re-introduction in the field.
 
 

Objectives:

Introduce and conserve rare and threatened gingers from NE. & S. India
  • To conserve wild relatives of economically important plants.
  • To serve as a gene bank of gingers.
  • To provide necessary Ginger materials to various research institutes.
  • To establish a ginger house.
  • To develop Herbarium of Indian gingers.
  • Organization of awareness camps for Teachers, Students and Farmers.
  • Reintroduction of such plants into their natural habitats.
 
Useful Gingers:

Spices: The important spices include Elettariacardamomum, Amomumsubulatum (large cardamum), Curcuma spp. Boesenbergia sp. and Zingiber spp. Elettariacardamomum is far more important economically than others and constitutes the second most important ‘National spice’ of India and is known as ‘queen of spices’. Its forms are most valuable crops of South India. Large Cardamum is an important crop of Northeast India with many uses. Zingiberofficinale, the true ginger of commerce also constitute one of the five most important major spices of India. Turmeric is another important spice of India with considerable medical properties.

 
Food: Many members are used raw or cooked. The East Indian Arrowroot or Travancore starch prepared from Curcuma spp. is used for the preparation of various dishes.
 
Medicinal Gingers : The members of this family are well known for their medicinal properties since time immemorial. They have been used in various systems of medicine such as Ayurveda, Sidha, Unani and as home remedies. A few among them include Alpinia galanga, A. calcarata, Amomum subulatum, Curcuma longa, C. aeruginosa, C. caesia, Elettaria cardamomum, Hedychium spicatum, Kaempferia galanga, K. rotunda, Zingiber officinale, Z. zerumbet etc.
 

Ornamentals: The gingers are relatively new as ornamentals or landscape plants. They are mostly plants with attractive foliage, showy inflorescence and often brightly coloured bracts and floral parts. Some varieties have fragrant flowers others have spicy foliage. More than 250 species are cultivated as ornamentals throughout the world. Whereas in India, less than 20 species are grown as ornamentals.

 

The leaves exhibit shades of light to dark green colour or white. Some are flushed with purple or silver underneath (Amnomum spp., Alpinia spp., Kaempferia spp. etc.) These make them commercially popular as foliage plants. The attractive inflorescences of some species are wildly used as cut flowers.

 

Gingers have become very popular as they are very easy to grow, need very little care. They form impressive clumps quickly and are relatively disease and pest free.

 

The knowledge about the garden gingers is fragmentary and scattered. The books on horticulture published so far, contains only scanty references of gingers and their cultivation. Some of the commonly cultivated or potential gingers include,

 
  • Alpinias (Shell gingers): A. calcarata, A. galanga, A. purpurata, A. zerumbet, A. malaccensis, A. sanderae,A. zerumbet etc.
  • Curcumas (Hidden gingers): C. ecalcarata, C. roscoeana
  • Etlingeras (Torch gingers): E. elatior
  • Globbas (dancing ladies): G. schomburgkii
  • Hedychiums(Butterfly gingers): Hedychium coccineum, H. coronarium, H. flavescens, H. gardenarianum, H. elwesii, H. wardii etc.
  • Hitchenias(praying mantle gingers): Hitchenia careyana.
  • Kaempferias(Peacock gingers): Kaempferia pulchra, K. rotunda etc.
  • Zingibers: Zingiber parishii, Z. ottensii, Z. officinale etc.
Cultural practices and rituals:

The turmeric plays an important role in the cultural practices and ceremonies of Hindus. Turmeric powder is offered to Goddess Kali and Naga.Kalam, an offering to the God is mainly prepared using turmeric along with some other natural powders.