A really interesting plant that’s getting a lot of attention these days is shampoo ginger, also known as ‘awapuhi kuahiwi. A relative of both turmeric (Curcuma longa) and ginger (Zingiber officinale), pinecone ginger is one of those tropical plants with aesthetic appeal and medicinal applications. It even shares the same genus with ginger, so you know it has to have a synergistic effect. The bright red flower has been used as a hair conditioner for a long time in its native homes of Asia and Australia, and also in Hawaii where it is naturalized.
You may have seen the shampoo ginger plant on a recent video sweeping the internet. By squeezing the mature flowers, growers can access the juice within. That juice is used as a shampoo and conditioner among people in Hawaii and those who grow it. There’s longstanding use of the plant among indigenous people for this very reason.
But it has so many other benefits. While it can be aggressive in certain conditions, people with an interest in exotic plants should consider growing this wild ginger plant even if it’s in containers. Once the flowers emerge, there will be no more questions about why we chose to highlight this amazing plant.
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Quick Care Guide
Shampoo ginger produces cone-like flowers that can be squeezed to yield “shampoo”. Source: alrod312
|Common Name||Shampoo ginger, ‘awapuhi, ‘awapuhi kuahiwi, pinecone ginger, bitter ginger, wild ginger|
|Scientific Name||Zingiber zerumbet|
|Family||Zingiberaceae, the ginger family|
|Height & Spread||4 feet tall, 4 inches wide|
|Soil||Fertile, rich soil|
|Water||1 inch per week|
|Pests & Diseases||Mites, aphids, cardamom root grub|
All About Shampoo Ginger
The bright green tropical foliage of Zingiber zerumbet is beautiful. Source: Starr
Shampoo ginger (Zingiber zerumbet – pronounced ZING-ee-ber ZAIR-rum-bet) is also known as ‘awapuhi, ‘awapuhi kuahiwi, pinecone ginger, bitter ginger, and wild ginger. It originates from parts of Asia and Australia and is naturalized in Hawaii as well. It was brought there by Polynesian settlers to the islands.
Bitter ginger is a perennial with a medium texture. It’s called pinecone ginger because of its flowers that look like red pine cones. The plant lies dormant in fall through spring and emerges via 10 to 12 green narrow leaves that whorl around a central stem. As the stem reaches roughly 4 feet, green pinecone lily flowers emerge on shorter green stalks nearby.
The flowers lie low to the ground, under the pinecone ginger leaves. Each immature green flower has overlapping scale-like petals that encase small yellowish-white flowers like inflorescences, which emerge singly from time to time. As the flower stalks mature, the flower color changes from green to orange-red and they fill with gel. They then take on a fragrant, sweet smell and a bitter taste. This is the juice of wild ginger used to condition hair.
Just like its relatives ginger (Zingiber officinale) and turmeric (Curcuma longa), the thick roots of Zingiber zerumbet are rhizomes. As cooler fall seasons arrive, the leaves and flowers die back leaving only those rhizomes or the underground stem at the upper surface level. Most of the plant is cultivated and used culinarily or medicinally. The leaves and stalks of pinecone ginger are used as a food flavoring.
The rhizomes are dried and ground for use in fibers. Rhizome extracts are also pressed into essential oils for cosmetic use. And of course, the inflorescence of awapuhi kuahiwi cones is juiced for the bitter but fragrant liquid. Instead of using it in food, like regular ginger – for which this plant shares a genus – the inflorescence is used as a light conditioner for hair.
While some call Zingiber zerumbet invasive, this is not the case. It’s one of those plants that escaped the wild via human cultivation and is now a flower naturalized in Hawaii and other places. It can be aggressive in the garden, so those who don’t want to deal with the maintenance involved in that should grow the plant in a container in their garden.
As it prepares to bloom, the cone-like flower will start to turn red. Source: adelpha_uk
So, now you know where the designation “shampoo ginger” comes from. Let’s discuss caring for this wondrous bitter ginger plant.
Sun and Temperature
Pinecone ginger requires full sun to partial shade with at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. Zingiber zerumbet is winter hardy in USDA zones 8b through 10a. The ideal temperature range for wild ginger is between 71 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit. It can handle short-term freezes but needs some protection in a snap freeze. At the end of the pinecone ginger growing season, cover the rhizomes with mulch or bring them in to be overwintered – especially if you live outside its hardiness range. In spring when snap freezes occur, cover the new shoots and leaves with a frost cloth. As long as adequate moisture and soil nutrients are available to Zingiber zerumbet, heat is no problem.
Water and Humidity
Zingiber zerumbet needs at least 1 inch of water per week and consistently moist soil throughout its growth period. Keep the soil around the rhizomes moist but not too wet. Water the ground around your wild ginger plants every few days in the morning or at dusk, or as often as the top inch of soil dries out. Water the rhizome slightly more when the pinecone ginger plant is flowering. Zingiber zerumbet does not need much water in its dormant season. Water infrequently during fall, winter, and early spring when there are no leaves or pinecone-like inflorescences and flowering to feed.
Pinecone ginger needs fertile well-draining soil wherever it is planted. If you live in an area where the plant is considered invasive or aggressive, plant it in rich potting soil in a container. Where poor soil exists, amend it with cow manure, or fertile, well-rotted compost, and sand. Bitter ginger enjoys a pH that is slightly acidic to neutral at 5.7 to 8.0.
Because bitter ginger plants feed on the soil they are planted in, they don’t need extra fertilizer to thrive. Instead of adding fertilizer, refresh the soil around the plant annually as the bitter ginger plant shoots up new leaves.
In its natural environment, Zingiber zerumbet grows lush and thick. Source: Starr
As the plant matures and the flower color changes from green to red, look out for spent Zingiber zerumbet flowers. Remove them from the plant as it stops producing. Cut the stem of the Zingiber zerumbet plant near the base. Save the plant stems and leaves to flavor food, and extract the liquid from the flowers for shampoo or extract the oils from the roots. Note this aromatic native of Hawaii can be invasive or aggressive in certain climates. In that case, divide the rhizomes and plant them in containers in your garden so they don’t get out of control.
While it’s possible to propagate Zingiber zerumbet via seeds, the most viable method of propagation is through the division of wild ginger rhizomes. In this case, Zingiber zerumbet is very much like regular ginger. Find the vegetative growth points or nodules in each of the rhizomes and snap the rhizomes in between those spaces. Then transplant the rhizomes into varying parts of your garden or plant each rhizome in containers. For plant-loving friends, consider rhizomes for gifting. Ensure each pot or new hole you dig is adequately stocked with nutrients for your harvested rhizome also. You could also gather seeds as gifts to friends or try your luck with them yourself.
Harvesting ‘Shampoo’ Ginger
Perhaps the coolest thing about Zingiber zerumbet plants is harvesting the liquid from its flower to be used as a shampoo. It is called shampoo ginger, after all! Wait for the flower to turn from green to deep red, and then squeeze the liquid from the plants into a jar to use as shampoo later. This is the easiest way to harvest the “shampoo” from the plant without damaging it during the growing season. You can also wait until the end of the season and remove each of the shampoo ginger flowers from the plants, extracting the liquid to store and rinse through your hair at a later time. If you’d like to harvest your plants this way, wait until late in the season so you don’t do damage to still-growing, green leaves, flowers still flowering, and stalks. Once you’ve harvested the liquid from the flower, store it until you need it by freezing it. That way, you can enjoy the fragrant flower of the plant through winter. Consider harvesting the parts other than the inflorescence to add fragrant flavor to steamed veggies and grilled meats.
As it fades, the pinecone-like flower will turn dark brown. Source: Les_Williams
If you’re set up with good soil, you’ll have a happy gardening experience with Zingiber zerumbet. Let’s discuss a few of the issues you might experience when growing this Asian native flower from Hawaii in your garden.
Most of the problems involved in growing Zingiber zerumbet result directly from the conditions in which it is planted. Without adequately moist soil, the growth of the plant and its lovely inflorescence will be stunted. Think about how Zingiber zerumbet has taken hold in Hawaii. The climate in Hawaii is tropical, humid, and temperate year-round. The soil there is rich and full of volcanic matter.
When deciding where to place your plants, provide rich soil amended with compost or cow manure. This ensures your plants produce enough foliage to withstand late summer and also prevents singing on the leaves of plants.
If you live somewhere very dry, search for an area in partial shade. Those Zingiber zerumbet plants gardened in dry areas with full sunlight won’t do as well as those in partial shade.
Search for mites on your Zingiber zerumbet plant each time you go into the garden. They shouldn’t be hard to find, because those that attack ginger species are red. The undersides of the leaves become dusty, and that’s because the mites have congregated there. In late stages, they spin webs around all parts of the plant. Predatory mites, lacewings, and ladybugs will keep spider mites at bay as they feast upon them. A garden of the plants beneficial predators enjoy mixed with your Zingiber zerumbet plant will help to attract them. If this doesn’t remove the threat of mites, try insecticidal soap spray applied in intervals of 7 to 10 days apart.
Aphids are small pear-shaped creatures that feed on the sap of your ginger plant. They tend to congregate near leaf nodes and on the undersides of leaves. Search for them there. In late stages, they can defoliate and weaken your ginger plant. To remove them from the mix, plant fennel, dill, and yarrow nearby to encourage predator insects. The same insects that feed on spider mites also feed on aphids. A strong stream of water from a hose will rip them off the plant, and prevent further feeding. Insecticidal soap sprays or neem oil applied at 7 to 10-day intervals also work. Planting trap crops like nasturtium nearby helps too.
Cardamom root grub, from the species Basilepta fulvicorne: Chrysomelidae, feed on ginger rhizomes and stunt the growth of the plant in the process. The adult beetles lay eggs on the lower leaves of a ginger plant. As the grubs hatch, they fall to the earth and feed on the roots for 45 to 60 days. They then emerge from the earth in the springtime and continue to feed on the plant. A second set emerges in late summer and feeds through fall. Continuous feeding on roots prevents proper nutrient and water uptake. While some scientific studies have been done on fungal pathogens that can kill the grubs, they aren’t a huge issue. Feed them to your chickens or put them in bird feeders as you find them to prevent further damage. Some species of beneficial nematodes will feed on the grubs in the soil, too.
There are no prominent diseases that affect Zingiber zerumbet.
Frequently Asked Questions
Zingiber spectabile is a related shampoo ginger species that’s yellow colored. Source: Alejandro Bayer
Q: How long does shampoo ginger take to grow?
A: They grow within 10 months!
Q: What does shampoo ginger smell like?
A: It has a sweet fragrance that is lovely for your hair. Remember the leaves and shoots can be cooked into soups and other dishes as well.
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