Boesenbergia rotunda (fingerroot)
Fingerroot is a medicinal and culinary herb, with bright yellow, finger-shaped rhizomes.
About this species
Boesenbergia rotunda is a herb in the ginger family (Zingiberaceae). Its rhizomes are often shaped like a bunch of fingers, hence its common English name fingerroot. It is used in Thai cuisine, by the name krachai, and is also commonly called Chinese ginger, although it is not in the same genus as true ginger (Zingiber officinale).
Geography & Distribution
Boesenbergia rotunda is native from southern Yunnan Province, China, to west Malesia. It grows in dense forest and is common in its natural range. It is widely cultivated throughout south-east Asia, in small-scale subsistence farming systems, and has become naturalised in some countries. Species in the ginger family (Zingiberaceae) usually grow in damp shaded lowland areas or on hill slopes, as scattered plants or thickets.
Fingerroot is a small, erect herb, up to 50 cm tall. The rhizomes are bright yellow and strongly aromatic, and they resemble fingers growing from a central point. There are usually 3–4 leaves up to 12 cm wide and 50 cm long, which are undivided, ovate-oblong in shape. The flowers are tubular, pink and aromatic and produced in terminal inflorescences.
Threats & Conservation
Boesenbergia rotunda is common in its natural range, and no major threats are known.
Conservation assessments carried out by Kew
Boesenbergia rotunda is being monitored as part of the Sampled Red List Index Project, which aims to produce conservation assessments for a representative sample of the world’s plant species. This information will then be used to monitor trends in extinction risk and help focus conservation efforts where they are needed most.
- Spicy flavouring
- Edible rhizomes
- Traditional medicine
Fingerroot is used as a flavouring and eaten as a vegetable, as well as having a variety of medicinal uses. It is cultivated for its rhizomes and roots in Indonesia, Malaysia, Indochina and India where they are used as a spicy flavouring in food and pickles. The rhizomes are also cooked as vegetable or eaten raw when young. Young shoots are also edible, and leaves are used together with those from the teak tree (Tectona grandis) to wrap fermented soya bean cake (‘tempeh’) – a traditional Indonesian food.
In traditional medicine, rhizomes and roots are used in post-partum tonic mixtures (such as the popular Indonesian tonic, ‘jamu’), as a stomachic (improves appetite and digestion) and carminative (to aid digestion and reduce gas) and as a remedy for coughs and mouth ulcers. Crushed rhizomes and roots are also applied externally to treat rheumatism. Scientific research is underway to investigate their possible antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and anticancer properties.
Fingerroot is also grown as an ornamental.
Fingerroot is propagated from rhizome cuttings. Growth is fast when cultivated in well-drained loam, rich in organic matter, but plants will also grow in sandy soils. When grown for rhizomes and roots for use as a spice, the plants’ life cycle is usually about five months. Plants can produce young shoots for use as a vegetable, and rhizomes and roots for medicinal use for several years.
This species at Kew
Pressed and dried, and alcohol-preserved specimens of Boesenbergia species are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers from around the world by appointment. The details of some of these, including images, can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.
Kew’s Economic Botany Collection includes specimens of the rhizomes and leaves of Boesenbergia rotunda, which are available to researchers by appointment.
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