Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gingers in Borneo

When hearing ginger, do you think of condiments and spices? Good. Anything else? What will you think if I tell you that ginger also means ‘snake bite cure’, ‘sleeping mats’, ‘winnowing tray’, ‘salad’, ‘rice wrapped in leaves,’ ‘roof’ and ‘fresh fish pickle’…? This is ginger in Borneo! With over 1200 varieties over 45 genera, mostly in tropical climates and with Malaysia (that includes nearly 30% of Borneo) having some of the greatest diversity in gingers, you might understand me better. Gingers are extremely widely used plants here, and when I bought my first “ginger book”, the “Gingers of Sarawak” pocket guide by Dr Axel Dalberg Poulsen and published here in Sabah by Natural History Publications I found my botanical horizon greatly widened. Now I can not only say: “another ginger”, but I can throw lengthy and complicated scientific names at my tourists… ah, that makes me look terribly learned! No, the scientific names are a by-product. I have known many useful plants that belonged to the gingers family, and I can point them out in the jungle: plants with edible flowers, fruit or stems, plants of which you use the leaves to make roofs or wrap rice, and the stems to make mats, and others that are used in local medicine. When you live in Borneo you cannot but realise a certain pattern, and the booklet allows me now to do a first rough classification when I am with locals and get lengthy and complicated local names thrown at my head… but that is a personal passion of mine. What gingers can be used for, and some general information you can now find in the feature section on my website (http://www.flyingdusun.com/) – in English, French and German, nevertheless.

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