Ginger comes from the tropical rain forests of

Southeast Asia, but it has been planted throughout

tropical Asia for at least three thousand years

(Norman 1991,62*) and is now planted in tropical

areas around the world. It has acquired an

ethnopharmacological significance among many

American Indian peoples. It is frequently used

both as a spice and as a medicine, e.g., for upset

stomachs (Ratsch 1994b, 58*). In Ecuador, where

ginger is known as ajej, the Shuar, Achuar, and

Aguaruna all use it as a hallucinogen. The

shamans ingest ginger to obtain magical power

(Bennett 1992,493*). The Carina rub a mixture of

gingerroot and tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) onto

the eyelids of apprentice shamans so that they may

be able to see the spirits of the forest. Ginger is also one of the initiatory plants of the novice shamans

on the Indonesian island of Siberut:

Finally, every novice is given ('seeing" eyes. He

goes with the teacher to a secluded spot in the

vicinity and must make a promise never to

betray the secret.... Old shamans explain that

the novice is called upon to massage a small

disease stone out of a spear that he has

brought with him and which the ancestors

have placed inside as a test. After he has

attempted this for a while without success, the

master shows him how it is done. Afterward,

burning ginger juice is dripped from a little

bottle into the novice's eyes and he becomes able "to see." The master then asks him what

he sees. (Schefold 1992, 116)

Ginger extracts have clear effects upon the

central nervous system, but whether they are able

to induce hallucinations (in what dosages?) is

questionable (Bennett 1992, 490*). The use of

ginger as an aphrodisiac is widespread. The Secoya

number ginger among the nuni, the plants of

supernatural origin (Vickers and Plowman 1984,


In .Papua New Guinea, the roots of bitter

ginger, a wild ginger species (Zingiber zerumbet

[1.] Sm.), are known as kaine. They purportedly

were used together with a Homalomena species

(Homalomena sp.) as a hallucinogen (cf. also

Kaempferia galanga). In the South Pacific, a

ginger species is used for magical purposes. On the

Gazelle Peninsula (formerly New Pomerania),

ginger leaves and roots are used in all magical acts.

For these reasons, ethnologists have characterized

ginger as the "mandrake root of the

indigenous people" (cf. Mandragora officinarum)

(Meier 1913).

Meier, P. Joseph. 1913. Die Zauberei bei den

Kiistenbewohner der Gazelle-Halbinsel,

Neupommern, Sudsee. Anthropos 8:1-11,


Raisch, Christian. 1992. Nahrung fur den

Feuergott-Die Ingwergewachse. Dao


Schefold, Reimar. 1992. Schamanen auf Siberut. In

Mentawai Schan:zane: Wachter des Regenwaldes,

Charles Lindsay, 105-17. Frankfurt/M.:


Schulick, Paul. 1996. Ginger: Common spice and

wonderful drug. 3rd ed. Brattleboro, Vt.: Herbal

Free Press.

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