Ginger is thought to have originated in southeast Asia. But in the late seventeenth century, when the British physician and natural historian Hans Sloane visited Jamaica, he found that ginger had been growing on the island for many years. He reported that the climate suited ginger and that it was well established: “it thrives very much, being planted by Root or Seed . . . it is . . . in all parts of this Island.”
For well over two thousand years, ginger had come to Europe along trade routes from Asia. But by 1707, Sloane wrote that the majority of ginger shipped to Europe originated in the West Indies: “Ginger is very common in all the parts of the West and East-Indies. It came from the last of these places to the West, from whence most of what is brought into Europe comes.” As early as the 1590s, the Dutch traveler Jan Huyghen van Linschoten visited India and saw ginger cultivation on the western coast. Yet he reported that “the most part of Ginger brought into Spain” came from the West Indies. But how and when had it gotten there?
According to one source, ginger arrived in Cuernavaca, Mexico, during the time of Hernán Cortés. Sources such as Sloane and Linschoten suggest that significant exports of ginger from the New World to Europe began shortly thereafter.
The plate above shows the flowering of a ginger plant in England during the month of September in 1754. The ginger plant was grown in the hothouse of the Duchess of Portland and Ehret’s plate is dedicated to her.