Sweet-smelling Shampoo Ginger

Tropical Flowers Express is a small family farm that has grown flowers since 1993 on two acres in Kapahi. Owners Johnny and Theresa Gordines ship their Hawaiian tropical flowers across the United States via an online store and sell fresh-cut bouquets at farmers markets. They also supply local flower shops here on Kaua’i, and have contracts with numerous hotels.

Some of what they grow: Anthuriums, calathea (four varieties), costus (three varieties), ginger (10 varieties), heliconia (19 varieties), protea, parrot (similar to bird of paradise) and a variety of foliage.

SHAMPOO GINGER

Zingiber zerumbet, known as shampoo ginger, gets its name from a viscous liquid in the mature flower. Smelling lightly of sweet ginger, it is used as a shampoo, conditioner, soap or massage oil. Originating in India, the plant is a canoe crop brought to Hawaii by early Polynesian settlers. Called awapuhi in Hawaiian, the plant grows wild in the mountains and is said to be one of the kinolau (multiple forms) of the Hawaiian deity Kane.

What to look for: After cream-colored flowers wither, the heads turn a bright, eye-catching red. Flower heads are delicate because they’re heavy with liquid.

Season: August, September and October.

Storage: Place the cut flower in a vase filled with water and it will last about three days. Use fresh juice right away or store up to one week in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.

Preparation: Early Polynesians made kapa cloth from the bark of the paper mulberry tree and added dried rhizome powder to the folds before storing, thus scenting their clothes. Fresh roots were used to treat indigestion and toothaches. Leaves and stalks can be used in an imu instead of banana trunks and leaves. The heat of the underground oven will make the leaves steam, adding moisture and a subtle ginger flavor. The juice can be enjoyed alone or added to smoothies.

Tip: Women often pick shampoo ginger in the forest. After a dip in a cool pool or waterfall, they squeeze the juice into their hair and over their bodies. (Swimming under waterfalls is not recommended as falling fish and rocks can be dangerous.)

Health benefits: Shampoo ginger contains zerumbone, an anti-inflammatory compound that markedly suppresses free-radical generation, proinflammatory protein production and cancer-cell proliferation.

Flowers from Tropical Flowers Express can be found at: Farmers Markets: Kaua’i Culinary Market at The Shops at Kukui’ula (Wednesday 4-6 p.m.); Kaua’i Community Market (Saturday 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m.); Kapaa Sunshine Market (Wednesday 3-4 p.m.) For more information, call toll free 1-855-807-9020 or place orders online at kauaiflowers.com.

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com

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