Costa Rica Ginger Plants
Ginger is most widely known for its culinary and medicinal use. The aromatic root of Zingiber officinale has been cultivated in India and China for thousands of years. The Zingiberaceae family however includes 52 genera and 1,300 species, and many bring pleasure to the eyes as well. Most "flowers" in the Zingiberaceae family are the showy bracts, and not the actual flower, which is typically small, and inconspicuous, emerging from between the bracts. The majority of gingers in Costa Rica are originally from South and South East Asia from where they were brought to other tropical countries as ornamental garden plants.
Red GingerAlpinia purpurata
This popular ornamental gingers are native Malaysian plants with attractive red or pink bracts. Plants can flower all year round, and attract bees, butterflies and humming birds. Red gingers prefer a position in light shade with a moist, fertile soil where the plants can grow to 3-4 m in height.
Shell Ginger, Boca de DragonAlpinia zerumbet
This perennial ginger species grows up to 3 m tall and bears colorful pink flowers with yellow labella and red spots and stripes. In China the plant’s long leaf blades are used as wrapping for a certain rice snack. Shell ginger has a range of medicinal uses. It can help as a digestive aid for stomach upset, and the essential oil of the leaf is used for high blood pressure and as a heart tonic.
Crepe Ginger, Spiral GingerCheilocostus speciosus
Not a true ginger, but closely related to the Costacea ginger family. Originally from southeast Asia it is widely cultivated throughout the tropics as an ornamental plant. It has delicately-spiraled leaf stalks and often grows wild in Costa Rica, where it flowers from August to January. In traditional Ayurveda medicine the rhizome is used to treat fever, asthma, bronchitis, and intestinal worms. The rhizome also contains diosgenine, a precursor the hormone progesterone.
Indian Head GingerCostus spicatus
This ginger species is native to the Caribbean. It has robust rhizomes that are very difficult to remove. In Cuba the plant is presently listed as invasive. Costus spicatus is widely distributed in the tropical Americas as an ornamental plant, and has been used in folk medicine to treat diabetes. A recent study however couldn't prove efficacy in the treatment of hyperglycemia.
Torch Ginger, Emperors RodEtlingera elatior
These gingers are very widely grown as an ornamental plant due to its spectacular huge, bulbous-like flower structure which grows up to 1 m height. The clumps of erect, leafy stems can grow up to 6 m tall. In Indonesia and Thailand the flower buds are used for stewed fish dishes and chili sauces. Also the ripe, sour-tasting seed pods can be eaten.
Beehive GingerZingiber spectabile
Beehive ginger is primarily grown in the West as an ornamental plant. In Indonesia, the plant has been used in traditional medicine to treat inflammation of the eyes. The bracts can differ in colour, from dull yellow to reddish orange or rose. The flowers themselves are small and fragile, with purple petals and yellow spots. In Costa Rica it flowers from March until November.
Shampoo Ginger, MaracaZingiber zerumbet
In Costa Rican dry season, from December until May the shampoo ginger is unvisible, all leaves and stems have died away. When rains start again, it springs up anew and grows tall leaves and red bracts which gradually fill with an aromatic, slimy liquid. The clear, slimy juice can be used for softening and bringing shininess to the hair.
Resurrection LilyKaempferia rotunda
Originally from China the small ginger plant has been naturalized in Costa Rica. In April/May, from within the soil stemless lavender and white flowers miraculously emerge at soil level. Only when the flower has wilted away the leafy shoots emerge. The spicy flower can be used raw or cooked as a vegetable or to flavour food. It also has many medicinal uses in Ayurvedic treatments.
Like the resurrection lily, turmeric has flowering bracts that surface from the ground at different times from the leaves. Flowering time on the Nicoya Peninsula is in March. Turmeric powder is a key ingredient in many Asian dishes as it imparts a mustard-like, earthy aroma and slightly bitter flavor to foods. In Ayurvedic practices it is used to treat indigestion, hepatitis, jaundice, diabetes, atherosclerosis and bacterial infections.
Text and photography by Pia Pfau. Pictures taken in the gardens of Star Mountain Jungle Lodge, Malpais Costa Rica