Rich in nu­tri­ents and an­tiox­i­dants, you can also grow these su­per-herbs at home, says Jane Wrig­glesworth

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Three su­per­food herbs to grow

Gin­ger, gin­seng and gold­enseal – these are three of the world’s most pop­u­lar herbal reme­dies and all have been ac­knowl­edged as among the so-called ‘su­per­foods’: ed­i­bles that are es­pe­cially rich in nu­tri­ents or an­tiox­i­dants. And al­though it takes some time to get gin­seng and gold­enseal off the mark, you can grow all three of these herbs at home.

Gin­ger Zin­giber of­fic­i­nale is the most

com­monly used ed­i­ble gin­ger that pro­vides spice to many of our culi­nary dishes. It’s also the gin­ger used most of­ten for medic­i­nal pur­poses. Other species have medic­i­nal value, but their ac­tions are dif­fer­ent.

This pun­gent ed­i­ble has antiemetic (re­duces nau­sea and vom­it­ing), anti-in­flam­ma­tory, an­tiplatelet (pre­vents blood clots), an­tivi­ral, an­ti­spas­modic, an­tiox­i­dant, an­tibac­te­rial and an­ti­fun­gal prop­er­ties, among oth­ers. It is also an ef­fec­tive treat­ment for stom­ach cramps, coughs, chest in­fec­tions and stuffed noses. As a cir­cu­la­tory stim­u­lant, it also helps to carry other herbs through­out the body, boost­ing their ef­fec­tive­ness. Gin­ger and fever­few taken to­gether, for ex­am­ple, have been shown to be ef­fec­tive against mi­graines. Its anti-in­flam­ma­tory ac­tions can also help re­duce pain and swelling of those suf­fer­ing from os­teoarthri­tis.

The freshly squeezed juice from the root (tech­ni­cally it’s a rhi­zome) can be taken in a hot tea, or sim­ply grate the root and in­fuse this in boil­ing wa­ter. It’s great to sup on when coughs and colds are ram­pant. The ac­tive con­stituents in gin­ger peak about 60 min­utes af­ter drink­ing, then be­gin to de­cline.

Look­ing for herbs classed as su­per­foods? Gin­ger, gin­seng and gold­enseal all have a long enough list of health ben­e­fits to war­rant a su­per-herb sta­tus.

So for acute con­di­tions, drink this gin­ger tea ev­ery two to three hours.

Gin­ger is a tropical plant but can be grown in a green­house or in­doors. It’s best planted in spring or early sum­mer and har­vested in au­tumn. It likes fil­tered sun­light, hu­mid­ity and rich soil.

To plant a store-bought rhi­zome, choose a plump, juicy spec­i­men with ‘eyes’ (growth buds). Slice the rhi­zomes, mak­ing sure there is at least one bud on each piece. Plant in a con­tainer of free-drain­ing mix with com­post added. Each piece of rhi­zome needs about 20cm of space; a con­tainer at least 30cm deep is ideal. Plant 5cm deep with the growth buds fac­ing up. Keep the soil moist but not soggy, and feed reg­u­larly.

The leaves and flower stalks die down in late au­tumn, at which time you can har­vest your gin­ger.

Gold­enseal Due to over­ex­ploita­tion,

Hy­drastis canaden­sis is an en­dan­gered species. It’s one of the most prized mem­bers of the ra­nun­cu­lus fam­ily, hav­ing gained a rep­u­ta­tion as an ex­cel­lent herbal an­tibi­otic and im­mune sys­tem en­hancer. It’s used for a good num­ber of ail­ments, in­clud­ing colds, sore throats, si­nusi­tis, ear and di­ges­tive tract in­fec­tions, gas­tric ul­cers, chronic in­di­ges­tion, in­fec­tious di­ar­rhoea, and as a lax­a­tive and an­ti­haem­or­rhagic (stops bleed­ing).

Gold­enseal is es­pe­cially use­ful for fight­ing in­fec­tions. As a nat­u­ral an­tibi­otic and an­ti­sep­tic, it’s used to treat many in­ter­nal con­di­tions, such as in­fec­tions of the mu­cous mem­branes, as well as ex­ter­nal ones such as con­junc­tivi­tis, by way of an eye bath (gen­tly boil the dried root for 20 min­utes, then bathe your eyes in the infusion).

Gold­enseal is also re­garded as a par­tic­u­larly po­tent medicine for liver con­ges­tion, ac­cord­ing to Christchurch-based herbal­ist Richard Whee­lan. “It works par­tic­u­larly well with dan­de­lion or celandine to treat and cleanse the liver, and it com­bines per­fectly with myrrh and echi­nacea to treat re­sis­tant bac­te­rial or fun­gal in­fec­tions on the skin or in the throat,” he says.

Gold­enseal is na­tive to the cen­tral and eastern forests of the United States and south­ern Canada, grow­ing nat­u­rally on the shady for­est floor. A min­i­mum of 75 per cent shade is re­quired. New Zealand tri­als have shown that 80 per cent is ideal. The plants should be kept moist to en­sure good root growth, but it’s es­sen­tial the soil is free-drain­ing. Fur­ther re­search in New Zealand de­ter­mined that free-drain­ing, sandy, loam, ash soil is ideal.

Like gin­ger, gold­enseal can be planted as small pieces of root, though you can prop­a­gate plants by sow­ing the seeds and di­vid­ing the crown or rhi­zomes.

Plants die down in win­ter but, come spring, each plant sends up a sin­gle stem with two pal­mate leaves, about 20cm wide. Small white flow­ers ap­pear around mid spring, fol­lowed by green berries, which turn red when the seeds are ma­ture. The roots and rhi­zomes, which are a yel­low colour, are har­vested in au­tumn.

Like gin­ger, gold­enseal can be planted as small pieces of root, though you can also prop­a­gate plants by sow­ing the seeds and di­vid­ing the crown or rhi­zomes. Plant 20cm apart and keep well weeded. Leaf mulch will keep weeds at bay, as well as help re­tain mois­ture.

Roots are har­vested in au­tumn, af­ter the tops die down, four to six years af­ter plant­ing rhi­zomes. If sow­ing seeds, har­vest­ing takes place af­ter five to seven years.

Plants are dif­fi­cult to find, though you do see them for sale oc­ca­sion­ally. Check your lo­cal herb so­ci­ety for avail­abil­ity (herbs.org.nz).

Note: Gold­enseal should not be taken if preg­nant, breast­feed­ing or if you have high blood pres­sure.


Korean gin­seng ( Panax gin­seng), also re­ferred to as Asian gin­seng, has been used for cen­turies to en­hance per­for­mance and well­be­ing, in­crease vi­tal­ity, en­hance the im­mune sys­tem, help the body to with­stand stress, im­prove learn­ing and mem­ory, el­e­vate HDL choles­terol, and in­crease li­bido in men. It helps with stress and many of the com­mon ail­ments that are a di­rect re­sult of stress. The plant is also said to counter some of the ef­fects of age­ing. A study in 2009 showed that gin­seng ex­tract, mixed with To­rilus fruc­tus and Corni fruc­tus, re­duced wrin­kles and in­creased col­la­gen syn­the­sis when taken for 24 weeks.

It is def­i­nitely a well-re­spected herb. The word ‘panax’ is said to de­rive from the Greek word for panacea, mean­ing cure-all.

Like gold­enseal, you can grow gin­seng your­self, but you need pa­tience. It takes six to seven years un­til har­vest, or longer for larger roots. It likes sim­i­lar grow­ing con­di­tions to gold­enseal, grow­ing nat­u­rally

in shaded forests with 80 to 90 per cent shade. Also like gold­enseal, it pro­duces only one stalk with a sin­gle pal­mate leaf in its first year. Another leaf will ap­pear in the sec­ond year, and another in the third. When plants are three years old, a flower stem arises from the leaves and red berries are pro­duced. Each berry con­tains two seeds. These seeds can be strat­i­fied and sown to pro­duce more plants.

Pa Harakeke, a di­vi­sion of the Maraeroa C In­cor­po­ra­tion which grows plan­ta­tions of gin­seng in the Pure­ora re­gion of the cen­tral North Is­land says, “The cold win­ters and dry sum­mers to­gether with the vol­canic soils of the Pure­ora re­gion are prov­ing ideal for grow­ing gin­seng whilst the shade of the pine trees pro­vides the other in­gre­di­ent nec­es­sary to grow pure wild gin­seng in nat­u­ral con­di­tions.”

Choose your ideal spot, then sow seeds in au­tumn. “Sow the seed sparsely to re­duce com­pe­ti­tion be­tween the plants when they grow older. The seeds may need to be cov­ered in bird net­ting to pro­tect the seeds from the birds. The planted area should also be fenced to keep rab­bits, pigs and deer out.”

Roots are dug out gen­tly in au­tumn. Gin­seng seeds are avail­able from pa­harakeke.co.nz.

Zin­giber of­fic­i­nale. Gin­seng.

Fresh gin­ger root can be used in cook­ing and to make tea.

Hy­drastis canaden­sis.

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