Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Zingiber zerumbet
(shampoo ginger)



Zingiber zerumbet (shampoo ginger)


  • Last modified
  • 16 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Zingiber zerumbet
  • Preferred Common Name
  • shampoo ginger
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Monocotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Z. zerumbet is listed as a naturalized ‘cultivation escape’ in the Global Compendium of Weeds (Randall, 2012). The...

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Shampoo Ginger (Zingiber zerumbet); flower spike. Selva Bananito Eco Lodge, Costa Rica. November, 2010
CaptionShampoo Ginger (Zingiber zerumbet); flower spike. Selva Bananito Eco Lodge, Costa Rica. November, 2010
Copyright©Peter Nijenhuis - 2010 - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Shampoo Ginger (Zingiber zerumbet); flower spike. Selva Bananito Eco Lodge, Costa Rica. November, 2010
FlowerShampoo Ginger (Zingiber zerumbet); flower spike. Selva Bananito Eco Lodge, Costa Rica. November, 2010©Peter Nijenhuis - 2010 - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Shampoo Ginger (Zingiber zerumbet); tubers.
CaptionShampoo Ginger (Zingiber zerumbet); tubers.
Copyright©Stefan Lins-2011- CC BY-NC 2.0
Shampoo Ginger (Zingiber zerumbet); tubers.
TubersShampoo Ginger (Zingiber zerumbet); tubers.©Stefan Lins-2011- CC BY-NC 2.0
Plant parts of ginger (Z. officinale). Line drawing, not necessarily to scale. (A) habit; (B) inflorescence.
TitleLine drawing of plant parts
CaptionPlant parts of ginger (Z. officinale). Line drawing, not necessarily to scale. (A) habit; (B) inflorescence.
CopyrightPROSEA Foundation
Plant parts of ginger (Z. officinale). Line drawing, not necessarily to scale. (A) habit; (B) inflorescence.
Line drawing of plant partsPlant parts of ginger (Z. officinale). Line drawing, not necessarily to scale. (A) habit; (B) inflorescence.PROSEA Foundation


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Zingiber zerumbet (L.) Sm.

Preferred Common Name

  • shampoo ginger

Other Scientific Names

  • Amomum silvestre Poir.
  • Amomum Spurium J. Konig
  • Amomum zerumbet L.
  • Cardamomum spurium (J. Konig) Kuntze
  • Costus glabratus sensu Bello
  • Zerumbet zingiber T. Lestib.
  • Zingiber amaricans Blume
  • Zingiber aromaticum Valeton
  • Zingiber blancoi Hassk.
  • Zingiber littorale (Valeton) Valeton
  • Zingiber ovoideum Blume
  • Zingiber truncatum Stokes

International Common Names

  • English: bitter ginger; pine cone ginger; pine cone lily; shampoo plant; wild ginger; zerumbet ginger
  • Spanish: jengibre
  • French: gingembre blanc; gingembre d'oceanie; gingembre fou; gingembre tauvage; zerumbet
  • Arabic: zurunbad; zurunbah
  • Chinese: hong qui jiang

Local Common Names

  • : moeruru; rea
  • Bangladesh: jangli adha
  • Brazil: jenjibre-amargo
  • Cambodia: khnhei phtu; prateal vong prenh atit
  • Dominican Republic: jengibre amargo
  • Germany: Wilder ingwer
  • India: ghatian; yaiimu
  • Indonesia: lampojang; lampuyang; lempuyang
  • Italy: zenzero bianco; zenzero salvatico
  • Japan: niga shouga
  • Laos: hva:nz ph'ai chai hlüang
  • Malaysia: lampoyang
  • Palau: terriabek
  • Philippines: barik; lampuyang (llonggo); langkawas
  • Portugal: gengibre amargo
  • Puerto Rico: jengibre amargo
  • Samoa: 'avapui
  • Thailand: haeo dam hiao dam; kathue; kathue-pa; kawaen
  • USA/Hawaii: 'awapuhi; 'awapuhi kuahiwi; 'opuhi

EPPO code

  • ZINZE (Zingiber zerumbet)

Summary of Invasiveness

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Z. zerumbet is listed as a naturalized ‘cultivation escape’ in the Global Compendium of Weeds (Randall, 2012). The species is considered to have been native to Southeast Asia and carried by man throughout the Pacific, and has been cultivated in tropical regions worldwide for culinary and medicinal uses (Wagner and Lorence, 2002; Acevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2005). Z. zerumbet spreads by rhizome division and seeds (Branney, 2005). The species is naturalized in Puerto Rico, and is included in the Taiwan Invasive Species Database; however, in a risk assessment prepared for Hawaii, it was determined to be a species likely to be of low risk of introduction/spread in the Pacific and Florida (Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2005; Flora of Taiwan Editorial Committee, 2013; PIER 2013). According to FLORIDATA the species is not truly invasive or any danger to the natural environment, but it will spread in the garden and may overrun other plants if not given enough room (FLORIDATA, 2013). This species was first reported for the West Indies for the island of Puerto Rico in 1883 under the name Costus glabratus (Bello Espinosa, 1883).

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Monocotyledonae
  •                     Order: Zingiberales
  •                         Family: Zingiberaceae
  •                             Genus: Zingiber
  •                                 Species: Zingiber zerumbet

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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As the largest family in the Zingiberales, Zingiberaceae, the ‘ginger’ family, includes approximately 53 genera and over 1200 species distributed in all tropical regions of the world, with highest concentration in Southeast Asia (Kress, 2014). Members of the ginger family are perennial herbs, mostly with creeping horizontal or tuberous rhizomes generally aromatic and rich in starch (Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2005). The distinguishing features of all gingers are the fusion of two sterile stamens into a labellum and cells containing essential or ethereal oils (Kress, 2014). 

The genus Zingiber (nom. et orth. conserv.) was first named Zinziber in 1754 by Miller and amended to the current spelling Zingiber some six years later by German botanist Georg Boehmer (Branney, 2005). The name Zingiber may have originated from the Arabic word zanzabil and later the Sanskrit word singabera (‘horn-root’) in reference to the rhizomes, which gave rise to the classical Greek name zingiberi and finally zingiber in Latin (Larsen et al., 1999). 

The species Z. zerumbet was originally named Amomum zerumbet by Carl Linnaeus in 1753 and was transferred to the genus Zingiber in 1806 by Smith, although there is some debate on this. Smith published the name Z. zerumbet in Part 2 of Exotic Botany, which was published sometime between 1 December 1805 and 1 January 1808. Roscoe also published the name Z. zerumbet in Transactions of the Linnaean Society 8:348 (1806), so it is possible that Roscoe should be the author of the name rather than Smith (Branney, 2005). The authority listed in The Plant List (2013) is Zingiber zerumbet (L.) Roscoe ex Sm. 1806, although many consider 1805 the year when this work was published. The name Z. zerumbet refers to the spreading, antler-like appearance of the stems. 

The type for Z. zerumbet is still to be sought among several syntypes. A lectotypification made by Theilade (Gard. Bull. Singapore 48: 228. 1996) is erroneous, because the original material does not include the proposed lectotype (Acevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2005). 

The wild origins of Z. zerumbet are unclear, since it has long been cultivated as an ornamental and a medicinal plant, but the species is thought to have originated from Southeast Asia, possibly India, and been spread by man across the Pacific. It is popularly known as ‘shampoo ginger’, as its sticky, soapy residue that the flower bracts exude has been used as a shampoo (Wagner et al., 1999; Branney, 2005). 

Some variegated forms of Z. zerumbet exist as garden plants. The variegated cultivar, called Darceyi, was originally described as a new species (Zingiberdarceyi) in 1890 but differs from Z. zerumbet only in its height and its foliage, and is very popular in the United States. Another form, called TwiceasNice, originated with Tim Chapman of Gingerwood Nursery, St. Gabriel, Louisiana, USA. This form produces both basal inflorescences and occasional terminal spikes on a very compact plant (Branney, 2005; Ravindran and Babu, 2005).


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Rhizomes tuberous, aromatic, internally light yellow to yellow. Pseudostems 0.6-2 m tall. Leaves sessile or short-petiolate; sheaths glabrescent, green; blades broadly lanceolate or oblong-lanceolate, 15-40 × 3-8.5 cm, glabrescent, acuminate at apex, cuneate at base. Inflorescence ovoid to ovoid-oblong or ellipsoid, 6-15 × 2.5-5 cm, obtuse at apex, erect, 10-45 cm tall with 6-8 cataphylls; mature bracts broadly obovate or spatulate, broadest above middle, broadly rounded or obtuse at apex, 3-3.5 × 2-3 cm, with red-lineolate margins, initially green, maturing red; bracteoles linear to lanceolate. Calyx 1.2-2.5 cm long, membranous, white; corolla 3.5-5.5 cm long, the lobes lanceolate, pale yellow to white; labellum 1.5-2.5 cm long, pale yellow to white, the central lobe emarginate, the lateral lobes free nearly to base. Stamen ca. 1 cm long, the connective ca. 8 mm long; ovary ca. 4 mm long, glabrous. Capsule ellipsoid or obovoid, 0.8-1.5 cm long, red (Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2005).


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Z. zerumbet is considered to be native to Southeast Asia, possibly India, and carried by man across the Polynesian islands and throughout the Pacific. It is cultivated in India, Sri Lanka, China and throughout South-East Asia as a home-garden plant. In Java, var. amaricans occurs wild and cultivated, var. aromaticum is often found cultivated and sometimes wild or naturalized, whereas var. zerumbet is only known from cultivation. The species has been widely cultivated in the tropics worldwide for culinary, horticulture, and medicinal uses (Wagner and Lorence, 2002; Acevedo-Rodriguez and Strong, 2005).

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes


BangladeshPresentNativeGovaerts, 2013
Brunei DarussalamPresentNativeGovaerts, 2013
CambodiaPresentNativeGovaerts, 2013
ChinaPresentNativeGovaerts, 2013South-central, South-east
-GuangdongPresentFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2000
-GuangxiPresentFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2000
-Hong KongPresentNativeHong Kong Herbarium, 2003Tai Tam Tuk, Pok Fu Lam, Peel Rise, Bowen Rd., Fung Yuen
-YunnanPresentFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2000
IndiaPresentNativeGovaerts, 2013
-Andaman and Nicobar IslandsPresentNativeGovaerts, 2013
-AssamPresentNativeGovaerts, 2013
IndonesiaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-KalimantanPresentNativeGovaerts, 2013
LaosPresentNativeGovaerts, 2013
MalaysiaPresentNativeGovaerts, 2013
-SabahPresentNativeGovaerts, 2013
-SarawakPresentNativeGovaerts, 2013
MyanmarPresentNativeBranney, 2005
NepalPresentFlora of Nepal Editorial Committee, 2013
PhilippinesPresentNativeGovaerts, 2013
Sri LankaPresentIntroducedGovaerts, 2013Naturalised
TaiwanPresentNativeGovaerts, 2013
ThailandPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2000; Govaerts, 2013
VietnamPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2000; Govaerts, 2013


MadagascarPresentIntroducedGovaerts, 2013Naturalised

North America

USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-FloridaPresentIntroducedBranney, 2005; USDA-NRCS, 2013Naturalised, Alachua County
-HawaiiPresentIntroduced Invasive Branney, 2005; USDA-NRCS, 2013Naturalised. A Polynesian introduction on Kaua'i., O' ahu, Moloka'l., Lana'l., Hawai'i islands

Central America and Caribbean

CubaPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
Dominican RepublicPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2005; Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
Puerto RicoPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2005; Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012Naturalised
Saint LuciaPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2005


AustraliaPresentIntroducedGovaerts, 2013Naturalised
-QueenslandPresentIntroducedGovaerts, 2013Naturalised
FijiPresentIntroducedGovaerts, 2013Naturalised
French PolynesiaPresentIntroducedLechat-Vahirua et al., 1993; Wagner and Lorence, 2002Naturalised in Marquesas? Nuku Hiva I., Ua Huka, Ua Pou, Tahuata, Fatu Hiva. Introduced in Tahiti.
Micronesia, Federated states ofPresentIntroducedPIER, 2013
NiuePresentIntroducedGovaerts, 2013Naturalised
Pitcairn IslandPresentIntroducedGovaerts, 2013Naturalised
TongaPresentIntroducedGovaerts, 2013Naturalised
Wallis and Futuna IslandsPresentIntroducedGovaerts, 2013Naturalised. Wallis

History of Introduction and Spread

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Z. zerumbet is believed to be native to the Indian subcontinent and the Malaysian Peninsula. Its exact origin is uncertain, as it has been cultivated for so long in so many places throughout Southeast Asia, the Pacific, and Oceania. The species is likely to have been introduced throughout the Pacific by the ancient Polynesian settlers (Yob et al., 2011; Wagner et al., 2013). 

Z. zerumbet was certainly present in Hawaii before 1819, as its vernacular name was included in Charles Gaudichaud’s book of botany based on the Uranie expedition, the first major publication on the Hawaiian flora (St. John, 1989). The species (as Costus glabratus) was reportedly brought to England from Leiden as early as 1736 and cultivated in Yorkshire and Leeds (Salisbury, 1805). In Australia, Z. zerumbet was originally introduced from Java, and is now naturalized in Cape York Peninsula, with specimens collected from Bamaga and Badu Island (Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research, 2010). As of 1924, Z. officinale and Z. zerumbet were rarely grown for ornament in the USA and Canada, although they could be found in “choice collections” (Bailey, 1924). Today, the species is a commonly cultivated ornamental in continental North America, and escaped populations are known only from two sites in Gainesville, Florida (JSTOR, 2013). 

This species was first reported for the West Indies for the island of Puerto Rico by Bello Espinosa in 1883 under the name Costus glabratus (Bello Espinosa, 1883). In Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, Z. zerumbet is naturalized and can be found in many areas including wet roadsides, stream and river banks, and shaded forest areas (Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2005; Govaerts, 2013). 

Risk of Introduction

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The risk of introduction of Z. zerumbet is low to moderate. The species has been widely planted in tropical regions around the world and in some places has escaped from cultivation (Randall, 2012; JSTOR, 2013), and in warmer areas the species is extremely vigorous (Branney, 2005). Despite its label as a weed species in Hawaii and other Pacific Islands (Branney, 2005), Z. zerumbet was considered a low risk of introduction according to a risk assessment prepared for Hawaii (PIER, 2013), for the following reasons: there is no evidence that Z. zerumbet creates a fire hazard in natural ecosystems; it requires specialist pollinators, and propagules are not likely to be dispersed unintentionally; the species does not exhibit prolific seed production (>1000/m2); there is no evidence that the propagules are likely to disperse as a produce contaminant; and propagules are not adapted to wind dispersal (PIER, 2013) The species should, however, be monitored, as the findings of this risk assessment focused on the species’ propagation by seed. Like other members of the Zingiber genus, Z. zerumbet can spread quickly by rhizome division (Wolff et al., 1999).


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Z. zerumbet is cultivated throughout the tropics for ornamental and medicinal use and, under natural conditions, can be found in many areas including wet roadsides, stream and river banks, and shaded forest areas. In Puerto Rico, this species has been recorded in the Rio Abajo State Forest, the Maricao State Forest, and on the roadside in Vega Baja (Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2005). 

Z. zerumbet is generally cultivated or naturalized in Southeast Asia in forest margins, brushwood, mixed forests, teak forests and waste places near villages, at altitudes up to 1200 m (Wolff et al., 1999). The species grows at altitudes of around 150 m in Nepal (Flora of Nepal Editorial Committee, 2013). In North America, the species is found in disturbed areas, at altitudes around 50 m (Flora of North America Editorial Committee, 2014).

Habitat List

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Terrestrial – ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Disturbed areas Present, no further details Natural
Rail / roadsides Present, no further details Natural
Urban / peri-urban areas Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalNatural forests Principal habitat Natural
Riverbanks Principal habitat Natural
Scrub / shrublands Present, no further details Natural

Biology and Ecology

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The chromosome count for Z. zerumbet was determined in 1943 to be 2n=22 (Raghavan and Venkatasubban, 1943).

Reproductive Biology

Z. zerumbet produces robust, upright pseudostems that emerge in May or June, depending on local temperatures. In tropical areas, the inflorescences are produced in July and August, but in temperate gardens, where the plants tend to emerge from dormancy later, the species produces flowers in September and continues into October if weather permits (Branney, 2005).

In Hong Kong, Z. zerumbet flowers between July and September, and fruits in October (Hong Kong Herbarium, 2003). The floral bracts are green when young and red when old. The actual flowers emerge from between the floral bracts and are inconspicuous, 3-petaled, and pale yellowish in colour.

Environmental Requirements

Z. zerumbet grows at altitudes of up to 1200 m (Branney, 2005, Ravindran and Babu, 2005). In Java, the species is found up to 1300 m (Wolff et al., 1999). Five samples of Z. zerumbet were collected by Ghosh et al. (2011) in Sikkim, Meghalaya and Assam, at altitudes ranging from 300 to 973 m.

In the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plain of North America, Z. zerumbet almost never occurs in wetlands. In the Caribbean, the species is a facultative wetland plant; it usually occur in wetlands, but may occur in non-wetlands. In Hawaii, the species occurs in both wetlands and non-wetlands (USDA-NRCS, 2013).


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Af - Tropical rainforest climate Preferred > 60mm precipitation per month
Am - Tropical monsoon climate Preferred Tropical monsoon climate ( < 60mm precipitation driest month but > (100 - [total annual precipitation(mm}/25]))
As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Tolerated Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Tolerated Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Absolute minimum temperature (ºC) -10

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Z. zerumbet is a minor host of the spiraled whitefly, Aleurodicus dispersus. A. dispersus is of Neotropical origin, is native to Central America and the Caribbean region, but is also found in South America and southern Florida, USA. A. dispersus has also been reported in the Canary Islands since 1962, Hawaii in 1978, the Philippines in 1982, the Pacific Islands during the 1980s, and more recently in India, Sri Lanka, Africa, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan and northern Australia (CABI, 2013).

Z. zerumbet is also a minor host of the cardamom root grub, Basilepta fulvicornis, which may feed and develop on the plant during its larval stage. B.fulvicornis is restricted to southern India and is mainly found in cardamom plantations in the western ghats of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu (CABI, 2013).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Z. zerumbet spreads by seeds and by rhizome division (Wagner et al, 1999; Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2005). It grows by riverbanks and streams and can be spread by water. It is spread deliberately by man as it is used for food and medicinal purposes. It can then escape from cultivation and spread into natural environments.

Impact Summary

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Economic/livelihood Positive and negative
Environment (generally) Negative

Environmental Impact

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While Z. zerumbet is not currently considered a high risk invasive species, it is widely cultivated in tropical regions worldwide. In cultivation, it is known to spread quickly in the garden and may overtake other plants if not given ample space (FLORIDATA, 2013). Z. zerumbet is classified as a ‘cultivation escape’ weed in the Global Compendium of Weeds (Randall, 2012).

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Tolerant of shade
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Fast growing
  • Reproduces asexually
Impact outcomes
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of endangered species
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Competition - shading
  • Rapid growth
  • Rooting
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally illegally


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Z. zerumbet’s rhizomes are used as a spice as well as for medicinal purposes. In Indonesia, Z. zerumbet is considered a stimulant for the mucous membrane of the stomach and bowels and it is applied against diarrhoea, dysentery and stomach-ache, and externally to relieve pain. In Brunei Darussalam, rhizome decoctions are put in a bath after childbirth, and warmed leaves are applied as a poultice against arthritis and aching joints. In the Philippines, the dried, powdered rhizome is used as an anti-diarrhetic, and rhizome decoctions are administered against asthma and rheumatism. In New Guinea, the plant is used in masculine rituals and reported to make women sterile. In Indo-China, the rhizome is considered tonic, stimulant and depurative. Macerated in alcohol, it is taken in the case of vertigo and in the first two weeks after giving birth. It is also reported to be applied to the head of children in convulsions and to the head and stomach of children with fever. The essential oil is applied in India as a perfume in soaps and toilet articles, after blending with other perfumes. Z. zerumbet is also known as shampoo ginger because the mucilaginous substance present in the inflorescence is used by the Hawaiians as a shampoo and natural hair conditioner.

Z. zerumbet var. amaricans. The rhizomes are used for seasoning, and in Indonesia, rhizomes and rhizome tips are reported to be eaten as 'lalab'. This 'lalab' is also reputed to be depurative and effective against sprue. Young flower spikes, without the bracts, are also eaten, raw or cooked. The juice of fresh rhizomes is taken to stimulate the appetite. In Malaysia, the rhizome is applied against stomach-ache with leg cramps, against puerperal infection and as a tonic. Externally, it is used against fever and numb feet, where it acts as a rubefacient and irritant.

Z. zerumbet var. aromaticum. Fresh shoots are eaten as a vegetable in Java. Young ends of rhizomes are consumed raw as 'lalab', like those of Zingiber amaricans. Medicinally, Zingiber aromaticum rhizomes are used in Java against biliousness, chlorosis and whooping cough. In Java as well as Malaysia, powdered rhizomes are applied to the body after childbirth.

Z. zerumbet var. zerumbet. In Indonesia, rhizome juice or decoctions are reported to be used against biliousness, gall stones, ulcers, rash and languor, and to increase the appetite (Wolff et al., 1999).

Detection and Inspection

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It is difficult to distinguish Z. zerumbet from other common gingers at ports of entry. Both Z. zerumbet and Z. montanum are similar morphologically and in medicinal use to the type ginger, Z. officinale, and both are known contaminants in the global ginger trade (Chavan et al., 2008). Accurate detection involves laboratory tests.

Methods of identifying Z. officinale include macroscopy, microscopy, and chemoprofiling, but these are limited in their ability to distinguish between closely related species (Chavan et al., 2008). Several species-specific DNA marker tests have been developed in recent years to identify Zingiber species. These include SCAR (sequence-characterized amplified region) markers (Chavan et al., 2008) and AFLP (amplified fragment length polymorphism) markers (Ghosh et al., 2011). Chavran et al. (2008) developed SCAR markers by first amplifying DNA fragments using RAPD analysis, a technique useful in differentiating closely related species. While the study found a SCAR marker to distinguish Z. officinale from all other Zingiber species, Chavan et al. did not report any means of distinguishing Z. montanum from Z. zerumbet. This was achieved by Ghosh et al. (2011) using the AFLP method, which literature shows to be a very important method in plant taxonomy for species-specific identification, and allows precision by characterizing DNA under stringent experimental conditions. Jiang et al. (2006) developed a metabolic profiling method which was also shown to be an effective method of identifying Z. zerumbet.

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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Z. montanum: Z. zerumbet is easily distinguished from Z. montanum by comparing inflorescences. While the bracts of Z. zerumbet’s inflorescences are bright red, Z. montanum has a larger (largest in Malesia), orange inflorescence with incurved bracts forming open pouches. 

Z. officinale: The rhizomes of Z. zerumbet are thicker, but less aromatic, than those of Z. officinale, and they are also said to be more bitter. Therefore, they are less valued for culinary and traditional medicine purposes. 

Varieties: The rhizomes of Z. zerumbet var. amaricans have a sharp and intensely bitter taste but no aroma, whereas those of Z. zerumbet var. aromaticum have a sharp and bitter taste and a pleasant aroma, and the rhizomes of Z. zerumbet var. zerumbet are said to be aromatic, but have a less agreeable odour and taste than Z. zerumbet var. aromaticum. They are also less sharp, and therefore considered less powerful than those of Z. zerumbet var. aromaticum (Wolff et al., 1999).

Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs

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There is an urgent need to better distinguish Z. zerumbet from other members of the Zingiber genus in the field, ports of entry, and in the spice/food/medicine industry for economic and safety reasons. Further research is needed on genetics, reproductive biology and ecology of the species, and its pharmacological activities in order to better understand its effectiveness in traditional medicine.


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Abdul AB; Abdelwahab SI; Al-Zubairi AS; Elhassan MM; Murali SM, 2008. Anticancer and antimicrobial activities of zerumbone from the rhizomes of Zingiber zerumbut. IJP - International Journal of Pharmacology, 4(4):301-304.

Acevedo-Rodríguez P; Strong MT, 2005. Monocots and Gymnosperms of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Contributions from the United States National Herbarium, volume 52:415 pp.

Acevedo-Rodríguez P; Strong MT, 2012. Catalogue of the Seed Plants of the West Indies. Smithsonian Contributions to Botany, 98:1192 pp. Washington DC, USA: Smithsonian Institution.

Bailey LH, 1924. Manual of cultivated plants: a flora for the identification of the most common or significant species of plants grown in the continental United States and Canada, for food, ornament, utility, and general interest, both in the open and under glass. New York, USA: Macmillan Co.

Bello D, 1883. [English title not available]. (Apuntes para la flora de Puerto Rico. Segunda parte. Monoclamídeas.) Anales de la Sociedad Española de Historia Natural, 12:103-130.

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Links to Websites

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Catalogue of Seed Plants of the West Indies
Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research (CANBR)
Flora of the Marquesas Islands
GISD/IASPMR: Invasive Alien Species Pathway Management Resource and DAISIE European Invasive Alien Species Gateway source for updated system data added to species habitat list.
JSTOR Global Plants
Zingiberales Research


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24/2/2014 Original text by:

Marianne Jennifer Datiles, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA

Pedro Acevedo-Rodríguez, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA

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