Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is the rhizome (underground stem) of the ginger plant, which is related to cardamom, galangal, and turmeric. Ginger is native to southern India, and has been grown there for milennia. Ginger has many uses: its flowers are ornamental, and the rhizome has been used in everything from traditional medicine to condiments (such as pickled ginger, candied ginger or ginger chutney), to being indispensable in curries, soft drinks (like ginger beer and ginger ale), and holiday baked goods.
The ginger rhizome is commonly known as a "hand" due to its gnarled, branching form. The hand is covered in an inedible, pale brown peel that, once removed, reveals a pale yellow, slightly juicy flesh. This flesh is typically grated or minced fine, as the rhizome, especially in older specimens, is fibrous.
Fresh ginger has a wonderfully warm spicy pungent aroma and flavor with overtones of lemons and flowers. The main constituent chemicals of ginger that are responsible for its flavor are zingerone, shogaol, and gingerol, which have antibacterial effects. Ginger can also be used to reduce nausea.
In cocktails, ginger can be infused into simple syrups or vodka. Hans Reisetbauer produces a ginger eau de vie, which is staggeringly good, but hard to find and quite expensive (around $100 a half bottle). But it captures the aroma and flavor of fresh ginger perfectly, and is a perfect tonic for a sore throat or cold.