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When I visit tropical and subtropical forest gardens I often see ginger, turmeric, galangal, and cardamom in the understory, beneath and between the fruit trees. In fact, according to P.K. Nair’s fantastic Tropical Homegardens, ginger and turmeric are universally found in tropical homegardens (ancient, traditional food forests) around the world.

zingiber officinale1
True ginger (Zingiber officinale) is the most important member of the family, with edible rhizomes and shoots. Surprisingly, ginger can handle 15F/-9C (USDA zone 8).

I was thus very excited the day my copy of T.M.E. Branney’s Hardy Gingers arrived in the mail. This book profiles perhaps 100 members of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae) and the related Costaceae. How nice to learn that many, many gingers can handle some cold, and are grown by gardeners in the US and UK as ornamentals.

Hardy Gingers also lists uses for many of these species. I went further and cross-referenced with Kunkel’s Plants for Human Consumption (listing 18,000 edible plants) and Mansfield’s Encyclopedia of Agricultural and Horticultural Crops (6,000 cultivated crops) and came up with a list of edible gingers for temperate climates.

zingiber mioga
Mioga ginger (Zingiber mioga) has edible shoots, leaves, flower spikes, and rhizomes. This is the winner at -10F/-23C (USDA zone 6). Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

I garden in USDA zone 6 (-10F, -23C), and have a protected area for more tender species. Last year I planted three edible hardy gingers there: mioga ginger (Zingiber mioga), with edible shoots and roots; butterfly ginger (Hedychium coronarium), with beautiful edible flowers; and zedoary (Curcuma zedoaria), a species of which almost every part is used as a spice. Currently I’m waiting for the snow to melt to see which ones survived. Plant Delights nursery taught me that you have to personally kill something three times before you know it won’t grow for you, so I’m on my way.

curcuma zedoaria1
Zedoary (Curcuma zedoaria) is grown for starch, extracted from the roots. The spicy shoots, leaves, flower spikes, and leaves are also used. Hardy to 5F/-15C (USDA zone 7).

The uses of these crops fall into several categories:

  • Rhizomes. These are spicy roots used like ginger, turmeric, and galangal.
  • Starch. Some Curcuma roots are cultivated for extraction of starch (like Queensland arrowroot or kudzu).
  • Shoots. Eaten like asparagus. This is a major use of true ginger and mioga ginger.
  • Leaf. Some are used to wrap foods while cooking to add flavor, others are directly used as a spice.
  • Flower spikes. Eaten as a spicy vegetable.
  • Flowers. Edible spicy flowers.
  • Bulbils. Small spicy roots that grow on the flower head of Globba species.
  • Fruits, seeds. These are used like cardamom.
curcuma longa1
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) can handle 5F/-15C (USDA zone 7). The rhizomes make a great tea and are wonderful shredded into stir-frys or cooked with rice.

Food foresters in warm (and cool) temperate climates might be interested in planting members of this useful and ornamental family of plants in their understory. Many hardy gingers are quite shade tolerant. The table below presents the results of my cross-indexing of Hardy Gingers with Kunkel and Mansfeld. You’ll notice that turmeric, galangal, and even true ginger grow beyond the subtropics. Pick up a copy of Hardy Gingers to learn more about cultivating this interesting group of plants.

Latin Name USDA Zone Minimum Temp. Light Edible Uses
Alpinia caerulea 8 20 F/-6 C sun fruit, root tips, leaves, flowers
A. galanga 7 10 F/ -12C part shade cultivated galangal: for roots, flowers, spicy fruits, leaves
A. japonica 7 10 F/-12C part shade fruits
A. nutans 8 15 F/ -9C part to shade fruits like cardamom
A. zerumbet 7 0 F/ -17C sun to part leaves as food wrapper, shoot tips, rhizomes, flowers
Amomum dealbatum 8 15 F/-9C part shade seeds, flower spikes
A. subulatum 8 15 F/-9C part to shade seed pods cultivated as “black cardamom”
Bosenbergia rotunda 8 15 F/-9C shade cultivated for spicy roots, also shoots and leaves
Costus speciosus 7 0 F/-17C part shade shoots edible, rhizome
C. spiralis 9 25 F/ -3F part shade young leaves
Curcuma alismatifolia 8 15 F/-9C sun to part flowers
C. amada 9 20 F/-6 C sun to part rhizomes, cultivated
C. angustifolia 8 15 F/-9C sun to part cultivated for starch extracted from rhizomes, also flower spikes
C. aromatica 7 10 F/-12C sun to part starch extracted from rhizomes
C. aurantiaca 9 22 F/ -5C sun to part young flower spikes
C. longa 7 5 F/ -15C sun to part cultivated turmeric, rhizomes used fresh or dried, young shoots, leaves
C. petiolata 7 5 F/-15C sun to part “used as a spice”
C. rubescens 7 5 F/-15C sun to part starch extracted from rhizomes
C. zedoaria 7 5 F/-15C sun to part cultivated for starch extracted from rhizomes, also shoot hearts, flower spikes, leaves, young rhizomes eaten
Globba globulifera 9 20 F/-6 C part to shade spicy aerial bulbils
G. racemosa 8 15 F/-9C part to shade spicy aerial bulbils
G. schambergkii 8 15 F/-9C part to shade spicy aerial bulbils
Hedychium coronarium 7 5 F/-15C sun to part flowers and flowerbuds
H. gracile 8 15 F/-9C part shade “used as a spice”
H. spicatum 7 5 F/-15C part shade fruits, dried rhizome
Kaempferia galanga 8 15 F/-9C part to shade cultivated for leaves, rhizome
K. rotunda 8 15 F/-9C part to shade cultivated for leaves, rhizome, shoots
Zingiber cassumunar 8 15 F/-9C part shade flower spikes, rhizome
Z. mioga 6 -10 F/ -23C part to shade cultivated for shoots, also rhizome, leaves, flower spikes
Z. officinale 8 15 F/-9C sun to part cultivated ginger, rhizome and shoots
Z. rubens 7 10 F/-12C part shade seedpods
Z. spectabile 9 20 F/-6 C part shade “flavoring”
Z. zerumbet 8 15 F/-9C part shade rhizomes, shoots


Here are a few sources for hardy gingers:

Amulree Exotics

Aloha Tropicals

Gingerwood Nursery

Plant Delights Nursery


These are all in the UK or USA.