Growing and using ginger

30 November 2016
Ginger is one of those plants that fits easily into the kitchen for cooking or making drinks. Many of us use ginger in our cooking or to make ginger beer and ginger syrup, which are both healthy drinks for for summer or winter.  In summer drink we drink our ginger drinks with ice, in winter I add one or two tablespoons to black tea to add warmth and spice.


Above: the first batch of ginger syrup yielded 2 litres. Below: the second batch gave me an extra 1.2 litres.

Ginger syrup is the easiest drink to make and it's a great addition to your drinks menu over the Christmas holidays. Simply grate or finely chop a large piece of ginger root, you'll need at least a cup full of ginger. Don't get too precious with the amounts - it doesn't have to be exact.

To 2 litres of water add two cups of sugar and bring to the boil. When the sugar has dissolved, add the ginger and simmer the mix for an hour.  Turn off the heat, put the lid on the saucepan, and leave it sitting on the stove overnight to develop flavour.

The next day, pour the mix through a fine strainer to remove the ginger pulp and store the liquid in a sealed, sterilised bottle. Use this mix as you would use any cordial - a small amount mixed with cold tap water or mineral water. Generally this is about one part syrup to four parts water but the amount you use will depend on your own taste. Experiment until you find the right balance. It can be stored in the cupboard or fridge.

Don't throw out the ginger pulp, you'll get a second batch from it.  Collect the used ginger, add it back to the saucepan and use half the amount of water and sugar you used for the first batch. The process is the same - bring to the boil, simmer for an hour, turn the heat off and leave the mix on the stove overnight. Bottle the following day.

And because we are the people we are, let's try to grow our own ginger.

Ginger is one of those plants that can be grown in almost all climates and although it's easy to grow, it  grows slowly. It will take almost a year to grow a crop. The most difficult part of growing ginger is finding the right spot for it to grow. Some of you will have to grow it in a pot but if you're in a tropical or sub-tropical area, it can be grown in the ground as long as it's protected from wind and it gets afternoon shade. You must plant the ginger in spring.

Find some fresh, plump ginger at the shop, if there are buds already forming, that's a bonus.  If the piece of ginger is a large one, you can break off segments as long as they contain at least one bud and have 4 or 5 cm of rhizome under the bud.  Soak the ginger overnight in a bowl of water.

Warm climate
If you're planting in the ground, prepare the soil by adding compost and digging it in. Plant each piece of ginger about 5 cm deep with the shoots facing upwards and water in.  Make sure the area you pick is protected from winds, has good drainage and gets afternoon shade.

If you're not in a warm climate or if you want to plant in a pot
To plant in a large pot, fill the pot with good quality potting mix and plant the ginger 5cm deep with the shoots facing up. Water it in. If you're in a hot climate, the pot will need afternoon shade, in a cold climate it might need to be placed close to a wall for extra warmth but it certainly needs to be out of the wind. When it gets cold, take the pot inside to a warm sunny spot.

Don't let the plant dry out but don't over water either - the ginger will rot if it sits in water for too long.  After a couple of weeks, when shoots start growing, apply seaweed concentrate made up according to the instructions, or a weak liquid fertiliser. Comfrey tea is ideal. Continue to fertilise with a weak mix every two weeks until the green shoots start to die back in autumn/winter. When the shoots are brown and shrivelled, it's time to harvest your ginger.

Good luck, ginger lovers. 🌿