With exquisite fragrance in the blossoms, glorious spice in the roots, and multiple powers as medicine, gingers have been favorite plants for millennia, worldwide. Comprising perennial herbs packed with aromatic oils, the overall ginger family (Zingiberaceae) is large and complex. Counting an estimated 700 to 1000 species, ginger’s myriad nuances evade clear classification to this day. In Hawaii, about 26 species have been documented, and only seven are better known. On the Kohala Zipline course, you’ll encounter at least two or three of these lovely plants.
Shampoo Ginger – Awapuhi kuahiwi – Zingiber zerumbet
Brought to the islands around 300 AD in the canoes of Polynesian settlers, this royal-looking ginger belongs to the culture and land of Hawaii. The Hawaiians favored awapuhi for the sudsy fluid its flower heads release when squeezed. It served as shampoo, conditioner, skin lotion and thirst quencher at once. The rhizomes, when ground, provided a powder for scenting kapa cloth. Meat was wrapped in ginger leaves when baked. All parts of the plants served as medicine. Fully naturalized, this wild ginger grows in forested, shaded areas, often near ponds and streams. So you may just see it at Kohala Zipline, especially during the summer months. Hawaii’s modern spas like to use rich awapuhi kuahiwi in their product lines.
White Ginger – Hedychium coronarium. Yellow Ginger – Hedychium flavescens
Introduced to Hawaii by Chinese sugar plantation immigrants in the mid-to-late 1800s, these two gingers are both prized for their fragile and joyously perfumed blossoms resembling dancing butterflies. They have established themselves in the wild in the islands, but they are also cultivated for the flowers’ exotic, evanescent quality in lei and in fragrances. Growing as invasive weeds in moist forests, open areas, and along road sides, they blossom from late summer to mid-autumn: At Kohala Zipline, where yellow ginger dominates, just follow their scent to find them!
You may see some shell ginger along the road to Kohala Zipline. It features drooping, dramatic tresses of waxy, shell-like flower buds, edged with pink, and is scientifically known as Alpinia zerumbet. Kahili ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum) with its red-stamen flower spikes thrives at higher elevations. In bouquets at the resorts you may see torch ginger, and red ginger as well. As for edible ginger, key to Asian and Pacific Rim cuisines, it doesn’t grow wild, but it was cultivated in Hawai‘i as early as 1825, and has long been a valuable island agricultural crop, especially in the Hamakua area.