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Fingerroot: A Fascinating Spice Bursting With Flavor and Benefits

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fingerroot

Story at-a-glance -

  • Other names for fingerroot include Chinese keys, krachai-dang, temu kunci and Chinese ginger
  • Fingerroot has been traditionally used to help heal certain sicknesses and provide flavors to dishes. Studies showed that it may deliver antimicrobial and anticancer effects
  • Fingerroot is best grown in sunny and well-lit areas. Harvesting mature rhizomes must be done four to five months after planting

Fingerroot (boesenbergia rotunda) is a type of rhizome that belongs to the ginger (Zingiberaceae) family. Many people across Asia consider this a valuable addition to meals and potent treatment for certain sicknesses.1 If you’re curious about what this vibrant spice has to offer your overall well-being, along with how you can grow it at home, continue reading this guide.

What Is Fingerroot?

Fingerroot serves as a traditional medicinal plant and spice2 in India, Sri Lanka, southern China and Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.3,4 This rhizome is also known as Chinese keys, resurrection lily, tropical crocus, sweet Thai ginger,5 krachai-dang, temu kunci or Chinese ginger.6,7

Fingerroot comes from a small plant that can reach 50 centimeters tall. It features around three to four undivided, elongated and oblong-shaped leaves8 measuring 12 centimeters wide and 50 centimeters long, and bears fragrant pink flowers. The plant’s main focal point are the bright yellow, strong-smelling and finger-like rhizomes. Most people grow fingerroot from rhizome cuttings as an ornamental plant, although both its rhizomes and roots can be used for various purposes.9

Health Benefits of Fingerroot

Fingerroot exhibits health-boosting properties such as:10,11

  • Antifungal
  • Antiparasitic (assists with eliminating helminth and round worms in the intestines)
  • Anti-allergic
  • Anticancer
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antioxidant
  • Anti-mutagenic
  • Carminative
  • Diuretic
  • Antibacterial
  • Antimicrobial

Consuming fingerroot may also assist with addressing obesity and promoting wound healing, and was used in traditional medicine to help address inflammatory illnesses such as:12

  • Dental caries
  • Dermatitis
  • Dry cough and cold
  • Tooth and gum diseases

The plant itself was said to help treat rheumatism, muscle pain, febrifuge, gout, gastrointestinal conditions, flatulence, stomach aches, dyspepsia, peptic ulcers and skin itchiness caused by mite bites. It’s a known ingredient in the traditional Indonesian tonic called “jamu,” which is often given to women who just gave birth or to teenage girls who wish to use it for cosmetic purposes.13

Culinary Uses of Fingerroot

Fingerroot is mainly used as a spice in Indonesian, Malaysian, Thai and Indian cuisines. It’s added to curries and soups for its aromatic flavor and appetite-boosting capabilities.14 It can be pickled, eaten raw, or cooked like a vegetable. Fingerroot leaves, combined with teak tree leaves, may also be used to wrap a traditional fermented soy bean cake called tempeh.15

Young fingerroots may be eaten raw as a side dish alongside rice too.16 Fingerroot is best when paired with red meat and fish, since it helps tone down gamey and fishy flavors.17

You can find fingerroot in Asian supermarkets near you. They can be sold fresh, vacuum-packed, frozen, or brined (whole or sliced) and sold in jars.18 When buying fresh fingerroots, purchase those that are firm, tight and glossy.19

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Components of Fingerroot

Almost 100 substances are found in the fingerroot plant,20 namely:21

  • Flavonoids such as alpinetin, boesenbergin, cardamonin, geraniol, krachaizin, panduratin, pinostrobin, pinocembrin, rotundaflavone, silybin, rubranine, sakuranetin and more
  • Polyphenols like caffeic acid, coumaric acid, chlorogenic acid, hesperidin, kaempferol, naringin and quercetin

Uses and Benefits of Fingerroot Essential Oil

Fingerroot essential oil 22 contains beneficial compounds like camphor, 1,8-cineole, d-borneol and methyl cinnamate. Other substances discovered in this oil include: 23,24

  • Geraniol
  • Boesenbergin A
  • Boesenbergin B
  • Cardamonin
  • Chavicinic acid
  • D-pinene
  • Zedoarin
  • Nerol

Research noted that fingerroot essential oil exhibited antibacterial properties against various bacteria strains,25 particularly against foodborne pathogenic, cariogenic and acne-causing bacteria.26

“The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices” states that fingerroot essential oil can be obtained through microwave-assisted extraction or steam distillation, although these processes can affect the amount of certain components that may be present in the oil.27

What Do the Studies Say About Fingerroot?

Fingerroot possesses antimicrobial properties. One study found that turmeric and fingerroot extracts worked as a treatment for Mongolian gerbils with gastric lesions caused by a Helicobacter pylori bacterial infection. These two extracts played a role in decreasing risk for acute and/or chronic inflammation.28

A separate study found that Pinostrobin and red oil extracted from the plant’s roots were effective against H. pylori isolates. This may lower the risk for a Helicobacter pylori bacterial infection, a condition that can raise your risk for diseases like gastritis, dyspepsia, peptic ulcers, or gastric and colon cancers.29 Researchers have discovered several other health-boosting abilities from this spice, such as:

  • Middle-aged and older men suffering from erectile dysfunction can use fingerroot as an aphrodisiac.30
  • The crude extract of fingerroot was said to assist in preventing development of cancer cells (hormone-dependent breast cancer, non-hormone dependent breast cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer and cervical cancer).31
  • Extracts of rhizomes like ginger, turmeric, fingerroot and galangal (Thai or Siamese ginger32) were said to have antimicrobial capabilities against spoilage and pathogenic microorganisms, and may work as natural preservative agents.33

How Is Fingerroot Grown?

Fingerroot can be grown in areas where daytime temperatures fall between 64.4 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 30 degrees Celsius), although temperatures of 53.6 to 95 degrees F (12 to 35 degrees C) may be ideal too. Temperatures ranging between 10.4 degrees F (-12 degrees C) to 30.2 degrees F (-1 degrees C) may cause severe damage or plant death.

The plant is best grown in moist, sandy and well-drained soil containing high amounts of organic matter. The pH levels should range between 6 to 7, although levels between 5.5 to 7.5 should be fine too. Fingerroot should be grown in an area with annual rainfall between 1,200 to 3,000 millimeters, but it may thrive in areas that receive 1,000 to 5,000 mm of water.

You should grow fingerroot in areas that receive full sun, but you can also do so under light shade. Remember that once you grow plants in shady areas, the amount of cineole becomes lower compared to fingerroots grown in sunny locations. Always make sure to prune fingerroot plants, as they can grow through their roots and spread into a massive community that you may find difficult to maintain.

As the plant grows, you will notice the presence of long, straight, swollen and carrot-like rhizomes. On average, fingerroot plants live for around five months, but these may eventually yield young shoots and rhizomes that you may use in the coming years. If you want to consume or use young fingerroots, harvest them around one to two months after planting. For mature roots, start harvesting after at least four to five months.

Refrain from harvesting fingerroots for at least five months after planting, since these may already be woody and low-quality.34

What Are the Possible Side Effects of Fingerroot?

According to “The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices,” no reports have been made regarding fingerroot’s possible side effects.35 However, it’s best to stay safe and talk to your doctor before consuming, handling or growing this spice. You may have allergies to it or some of its components, or you may have conditions that could prevent you from reaping its health benefits.

Why It's Time to Try the Vibrant Fingerroot

Just like people from Asian countries who have been using this spice for many years now, you can count on fingerroot for potential health benefits. One may argue that it’s not as popular as other members of the ginger family, but studies have proven it can be equally as beneficial. It’s never too late to try adding fingerroot to your dishes to see how you may benefit from it.

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