The history of the ginger plant dates back thousands of years, when Indian and Chinese cultures harvested it for food flavoring and medicinal applications. Since then, the ginger root has been successfully cultivated in countries with humid climates.
Though no exact date is known, the use of ginger dates back more than 5,000 years. The plant originated in Southeast Asia. Ginger was a key commodity in the years when the spice trade was active. This trade introduced the spice to parts of Asia, Africa and Europe.
The spice was exported to Rome in the first century. After the fall of the Roman Empire in the fourth and fifth centuries, the spice fell in short supply. The spice is mentioned in 11th century European records and in an account by Marco Polo during a trip to Asia in 1280 A.D. In the 13th and 14th centuries, a pound of ginger could be traded for one live sheep.
In the 15th century, Queen Elisabeth I served ginger-infused biscuits cut to resemble some of her guests. These gingerbread men have since become a traditional Christmas confection. Ginger has been used throughout history to alleviate certain digestive issues, such as nausea or loss of appetite.