Zingiber zerumbet is a species of plant in the ginger family with leafy stems growing to about 1.2 m (3.9 ft) tall. It originates from Asia, but can be found in many tropical countries. Common names include: awapuhi, bitter ginger,shampoo ginger (Malay = lempoyang) and pinecone ginger.
The rhizomes of Z. zerumbet have been used as food flavoring and appetizers in various cuisines while the rhizome extracts have been used in herbal medicine.
Zingiber zerumbet is a perennial. From autumn until spring it goes dormant above ground as the leafy stems shrivel and die away, leaving the pale brown, creeping stems (rhizomes) at ground level. In the spring, the plant springs up anew. The 10–12 blade-shaped leaves 15–20 cm long grow in an alternate arrangement on thin, upright stem to 1.2 m (3.9 ft) tall. Among the leafy stems, the conical or club-shaped flower heads burst forth on separate and shorter stalks. These appear in the summer, after the leafy stems have been growing for a while. The flower heads are initially green and are 3 to 10 cm (1.2 to 3.9 in) long with overlapping scales, enclosing small yellowish-white flowers that poke out a few at a time. As the flower heads mature, they gradually fill with an aromatic, slimy liquid and turn a brighter red color. The flower stalks usually remain hidden beneath the leaf stalks.
Distribution and history
Z. zerumbet is native to tropical Asia and Australasia. The subspecies Zingiber zerumbet subsp. cochinchinense (Gagnep.) Triboun & K.Larsen (previously Z. cochinchinense) is found in Vietnam.
The leaves and leaf stalks, which are also fragrant, were used in baking in the imu, underground oven, to enhance the flavor of pork and fish as they cooked. Traditionally, the aromatic underground rhizomes were sliced, dried, and pounded to a powder, then added to the folds of stored kapa (tapa) cloth.
Perhaps the most common use of the plant awapuhi is as a shampoo and conditioner. The clear fragrant juice present in the mature flower heads that resemble red pine cones is used for softening and bringing shininess to the hair. It can be left in the hair or rinsed out and can also be used as a massage lubricant.