Bitter Ginger Plant Information
Bitter Ginger grows in the following 2 states:Florida, Hawaii
Zingiber zerumbet (awapuhi), also known as bitter ginger,shampoo ginger (Malay = lempoyang) or pinecone ginger, is a vigorous species of the ginger family with leafy stems growing to about 1.2m (3.9ft) tall. It is found in many tropical countries. The rhizomes of Z. zerumbet have been used as food flavoring and appetizers in various cuisines while the rhizome extracts have been used in herbal medicine.
Z. zerumbet is a perennial. From autumn until spring it goes dormant above ground as the leafy stems shrivel and die away, leaving the pale brown, creeping stems (rhizomes) at ground level. In the spring, the plant springs up anew. The 10-12 blade-shaped leaves 15-20cm long grow in an alternate arrangement on thin, upright stem to 1.2m (3.9ft) tall. Among the leafy stems, the conical or club-shaped flower heads burst forth on separate and shorter stalks. These appear in the summer, after the leafy stems have been growing for a while. The flower heads are initially green and are 3 to 10cm (1.2 to 3.9in) long with overlapping scales, enclosing small yellowish-white flowers that poke out a few at a time. As the flower heads mature, they gradually fill with an aromatic, slimy liquid and turn a brighter red color. The flower stalks usually remain hidden beneath the leaf stalks.
This plant, originating in India, was distributed eastward through Polynesia and introduced to the Hawaiian Islands in the canoes of early Polynesian settlers.
The juice can be used to quench thirst when out walking in the forest and can be combined with mountain apples as a meal.
In Hawaii, the spicy-smelling fresh rhizomes were pounded and used as medicine for indigestion and other ailments. The rhizomes can be stored in a cool, dark place to keep for use when needed. In traditional use, the rhizome was ground in a stone mortar with a stone pestle, was mixed with a ripe noni fruit and then used to treat severe sprains. The pulp was placed in a cloth and loosely bound around the injured area.
For a toothache or a cavity, the cooked and softened 'awapuhi rhizome was pressed into the hollow and left for as long as was needed. To ease a stomach ache, the ground and strained rhizome material is mixed with water and drunk. Similarly, 'awapuhi pake or ginger root (Zingiber officinale) is widely cultivated and eaten, or made into a tea for indigestion, as well as increased circulation of the blood and an increased sense of well-being. Rhizome extracts have been used in Malay traditional medicine for various types of ailments such as inflammatory- and pain-mediated diseases, worm infestation, and diarrhea.
An extract, zerumbone, from Z. zerumbet, has been found to induce apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in human liver cancer cells, in an in vitro study.
'Awapuhi is said to be one of the Kinolau, multiple forms, of the Hawaiian deity Kane.
The leaves and leaf stalks, which are also fragrant, were used in baking in the imu, underground oven, to enhance the flavor of pork and fish as they cooked. Traditionally, the aromatic underground rhizomes were sliced, dried, and pounded to a powder, then added to the folds of stored kapa (tapa) cloth.
Perhaps the most common use of 'awapuhi is as a shampoo and conditioner for the hair. The clear, slimy juice present in the mature flower heads is excellent for softening and bringing shininess to the hair. It can be left in the hair or rinsed out. Hawaiian women often pick or cut the flowerheads of this plant in the forest, as they approach a pool or waterfall for a refreshing summer bath, leave the flowers atop a nearby rock, and then squeeze the sweet juices into their hair and over their bodies when the swim is completed. The sudsy juice is excellent for massage, also.
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