I love ginger; it is one of my favorite spices and I use it heavily in cooking. I have even grown ginger...it is relatively easy to grow indoors. In the spirit of raising awareness between the food, tea, and herbs we eat, and the plants they come from, here is a picture of a ginger rhizome, sprouting:
Ginger is the rhizome of a grassy plant, Zingiber officinale; the rhizome is storage area below the ground, looking like a root but technically part of the plant's stem; the rhizome stores energy, nutrients, and water so that if the above-ground part of the plant is threatened or dies, the plant can regrow when conditions are right. This adaptation allows ginger to survive drought, as well as having its leaves and stems eaten. The strong-tasting chemicals which give ginger its flavor are concentrated in the rhizome, to protect this most important part of the plant. I wish I had a picture of the ginger plant that I grew for two years, but I cannot find one. The ginger plant looks like a grass, here's a photo of the ginger plant on Wikimedia commons. This picture looks nearly exactly like what my plant looked like.
This next photo shows fresh ginger root which I have sliced in order to brew up a batch of iced tea:
Dried Ginger vs. Fresh Ginger:
One reason I feel particularly compelled to share these pictures and this post is that, over the years, I've tried a number of blends containing dried ginger, and they just don't do it for me. I think that ginger is one of those spices that is best fresh, and that loses most of its character when dried.
Still, I do sometimes enjoy teas and herbs which have been blended with dried ginger. I will say, I do not have any dried ginger in my cabinet, and I have never bought it; fresh ginger root is a staple in my household.
Medicinal Properties of Ginger:
Ginger is a fairly common ingredient in herbal blends. It has potent medicinal properties, or supposed "health benefits", to use a buzzword I have become slightly annoyed with lately. Ginger is used traditionally to settle the stomach and provide relief from nausea. I personally find it to be very effective for this purpose. Wikipedia's article on ginger is fairly well-referenced and explains these medicinal uses, and what is known of the chemistry of ginger, in more depth.
Ginger as a Flavoring for Tea:
Ginger is also used as a flavoring in black tea, sometimes on its own, but often when paired with peach. Adagio Teas sells a black tea flavored with ginger, and a number of brands, including Adagio, Republic of Tea, Revolution, Stash, Bentley's, and many others, sell ginger peach tea. These ginger-peach flavored teas, usually but not always black teas, are very popular. I used to regularly visit a coffee shop in University Heights, OH, which sold a ginger peach tea, and it seemed that more customers ordered this tea than all the others combined. I will say, even though I'm not a huge fan of flavored teas, I do like this combination.
Ginger is also a common, but not necessarily defining ingredient in masala chai or spiced tea. I like including some ginger in chai, but I generally do not miss it when it is absent (unlike cardamom).
Ginger in Herbal Blends:
Ginger is widely used in herbal blends. One of the most common combinations is lemon ginger. While I find that lemon and ginger go very well together (one of my favorite combinations for an iced herbal drink is boiling fresh lemongrass and fresh ginger root, then chilling it), I find that most herbal blends focusing on ginger, and relying on dried ginger, just don't do it for me. Teatulia has an odd ginger herbal infusion that also includes the herb Vasaka (Justicia adhatoda). I wasn't really a fan of this either...the Vasaka is extremely bitter; while I normally like bitter flavors, it was too bitter for me, so I suspect it is probably too bitter for a majority of others as well.
How about you?
Do you ever use fresh ginger as a flavoring for tea, or for making herbal infusions? Do you like the presence of ginger in masala chai, or other blends? Do you notice much of a difference between fresh and dried ginger? Have you ever tried growing ginger?