Ginger (Zingiber officinal),Gingerbread and gingerbread
cookies, not to mention the gingerbread man, are so much a part of Christmas.
‘Run! Run, as fast as you can! You can’t catch me,I’m the Gingerbread Man! goes the ancient poem. The little cookie taunted everyone until he met a fox who offered to give him a ride across a river. Well, we all know what happened to the delectable gingerbread man.
The roots of ginger go back 7,000 years ago to China and India. The word ginger is derived from zingiber, which means horn-shaped in Sanskrit, based on the shape of the rhizomes (rootstalks). Ginger was considered an important item in the spice trade but it was used more for medicinal reasons by the Greeks and Romans.
In 2000 BC, wealthy Greek families sailed to the Isle of Rhodes to buy ‘spiced honey cakes. In the Middle Ages, ginger was brought to Europe by the Crusaders returning home and quickly became popular. Different varieties of gingerbread began to appear throughout Europe; from sweet, dark, spicy, soft or crusty, the only thing common was the ginger.‘
Gingerbread became particularly popular in Germany and France, where bakers formed their own guilds which gave them exclusive rights to make and sell the bread. It became so popular in Nuremberg,
Germany at the famous ‘Christkindlesmarket,‘ that it was called the ‘Gingerbread Capital of the World.‘ Nuremberg gingerbread was the exclusive production of master bakers known as the Lebkuchler and their creations became known as lebuucken, which called for flavoring such as cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, white pepper and anise in addition to ginger.
The first gingerbread houses were made in Germany and became popular with the popular fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel where the two lost children came upon a gingerbread house, known as the ‘Hexenhauschen, Witch House, as the evil witch who lived there caught and imprisoned the children.
Today gingerbread houses and gingerbread cookie men are still popular at Christmas, however candied ginger is also popular. These larger pieces of gingerbread are also known as Knusperhaeuschen (houses for nibbling at).
Ginger is both sweet and savoury and is used for different medicinal purposes in different countries. For instance, it is drunk as an aphrodisiac in Africa but eaten as a contraceptive in New Guinea. How strange is that?
Excerpted from An Herbal Christmas.
This article is an excerpt from An Herbal Christmas, an eguide full of articles on herbs and spices used for the festive season along with recipes, natural crafts, bath and beauty products and more.