Health Benefits and Uses of Shell Ginger

Health & Wellness

Shell Ginger (Alpinia zerumbet) | 

Shell Ginger also known as bright ginger has scientific name Alpinia zerumbet is a perennial species of ginger from the family of Zingiberaceae. The plant is native to eastern Asia, South Japan to Taiwan and South China to Northern Peninsula and Malaysia. It owes its local name Atoumo ("A-tous-maux" that means in english "to all ills") to its many virtues in particular to fight all kinds of flu. Bright Ginger, Butterfly Ginger, Light Galangal, Pink Porcelain Lily, Pink Shell Heliconia, Shell Flower, Shell Ginger, Shell Plant, Variegated Ginger and Variegated Shell Ginger are few of the popular common names of the plant. The genus is honored to the Italian physician and botanist Prospero Alpini (1553-1617). The specific name is the local one utilized in India. They are grown as ornamentals and their leaves are used in cuisine and traditional medicine.

Shell Ginger is a robust, rhizomatous, clump forming evergreen, herbaceous perennial plant that grows about 1–3 m tall. The plant more typically reaches 4-8 feet tall in the greenhouse and 3-4 feet tall as a houseplant. The plant is found growing in typically wet environments such as stream banks and shady slopes, and occurs in natural forests, riparian zones, wetlands, watercourses, forest margins, roadsides, urban open space in moist, warm, coastal and inland regions. The plant grows in slightly alkaline to acidic soils on clays, sands or loams. It is moderately drought tolerant but has poor salt tolerance. It is commonly called shell ginger because its individual shell pink flowers, particularly when in bud, look like sea shells and its rhizomes have a ginger-like aroma. It is distinguished from other members of the ginger family by the fact that its flowers sag from the ends of leafy stems rather than rise directly from plant rhizomes. Alternate leaves are simple, broad, and lanceolate to oblong-lanceolate with pointed apex and margins provided of short down. Bright green, shining leaves are up to 30-65 cm long and 5-12 cm broad sheathing the stems and prominent white midrib. Flowers are borne in pendant showy and fragrant racemes up to 400 mm long, and its main axis is very hairy; white, waxy and pink tinged ovate bracteoles enfold the buds. Flowers are orchid-like and funnel-formed. Calyx and corolla are tubular, corolla is white, and its labellum is up to 40 mm, crinkled and yellow, with red and brown stripes. Stamens are 3 but only 1 is functional, and it has 2 staminodes. Its ovary is inferior and 3-loculed. Flowering normally takes place from April-June. Fertile flowers are followed by globose capsules 2.5-3 cm long, and 2 cm in diameter, with orange red longitudinal ribs, containing about 30 bluish tetragonal seeds provided of white aril. It reproduces by seed, but usually and easily by division to be done during the winter months. Shell Ginger is called by so many sweet words "flower of paradise", "flower of my soul", "tears of the virgin". Everything about it is attractive: its very decorative foliage, with shiny leaves finely variegated with yellow. Its long spikes of flowers with elegant white corollas opening on bold red and yellow petals; its funny orange fruits looking like Chinese lanterns.

Shell Ginger gets its name from the cluster of funnel forming blossoms that resemble sea shells. It grows similarly to its culinary Ginger relative, in well moistened soils as a rhizomatous, tropical perennial. The leaves are used to wrap zongzi bao/doong, like a Chinese rice tamale in China and as an herbal tea in Japan. It is a staple of the traditional Okinawan diet, and published studies attribute this plant’s abundant bioactive phytochemical content (alongside antioxidant, anti-diabetes, anti-cancer, anti-tumor, and anti-obesity properties) to their remarkable longevity. Okinawa is home to a high concentration of the world’s oldest humans, those well over the age of 100.

Shell Ginger (Alpinia zerumbet) also known as Light Galanga, Pink Porcelain Lily, Shell Flower, Variegated Ginger, Butterfly Ginger, Yàn Shanjiang in Chinese, Getto in Japanese, and Sannin in the local dialect of Okinawa, the leaves and the extracted oils of the plant have long been used in Asia to relieve fevers and malaria, as well as to serve as a general health tonic. It is also used in South and Central America as a diuretic, antihypertensive, and antiulcerogenic.

It is a tropical perennial plant that grows in abundance in Okinawa and continues to be used in traditional Okinawan cuisine and as a traditional remedy. Shell Ginger powder contains as much as 60% dietary fiber. So it is a good source of dietary fiber. Dietary fiber is a good thing for your body. It helps to prevent the buildup of toxins in your system. Without dietary fiber in the diet, you can be at risk for irritable bowel syndrome, colon cancer, dyslipidemia, constipation, obesity, diabetes, etc. Fiber will enable your body to be able to absorb the food that you eat much more easily, thereby eliminating that problem that we talked about before. Another good thing about fiber is that it allows you to feel full faster. This allows you to eat less overall and still have enough nutrients for the rest of your day.

Results of recently published studies have shown that Shell Ginger contains abundant bioactive phytochemicals, with additional anti-obesity, antioxidant, and anti-aging properties. In addition, animal studies have shown Shell Ginger to be a life-expanding plant and suggest that this plant, if used in humans, could expand their lifespan by 22.6%.

Many of Japan’s longest living people are from Okinawa, a chain of tropical islands in the southernmost part of Japan, that is home to a large number of the world’s centenarians (people living to 100 years and more). Among the many reasons contributing to their longevity, nutrition and the “Okinawan diet” are said to be key factors. So what makes the Okinawan diet so special? One local ingredient, known as gettou (月桃, alpinia zerumbet, moon peach or Shell Ginger) has been the focus of various studies and is said to be a significant contributor to longevity in Okinawa. Shell Ginger is a plant that grows in abundance in Okinawa and has been used both in traditional Okinawan cuisine and as a traditional herbal remedy. It’s part of the ginger family and gets its name from its beautiful, pink, shell-shaped flowers. With a life expectancy of 83.7 years, Japan ranks No. 1 in the world when it comes to longevity, a position it’s held for more than 20 years. Comparing this to the global average of 69.1 years, it’s no wonder people have been trying to uncover the Japanese secrets to a long and healthy life.

Extracts of Shell Ginger display antioxidant, antimicrobial, insecticidal, anthelmintic, tyrosinase and melanogenesis inhibitory, anti-atherogenic, anti-aging, anti-glycation, integrase and neuraminidase inhibitory, lifespan prolongation, hair growth promotion, anticancer, antidepressant, anxiolytic, anti-obesity, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, hypolipidemic, anti-ulcerogenic, anti-platelet, osteoblastic, osteogenic, thrombolytic, and cardiac arrhythmogenic activities.

Essential oils of Shell Ginger leaves have antimicrobial, larvicidal, antinociceptive, hypotensive, vasorelaxant, myorelaxant, antispasmodic, antidepressant, anxiolytic, anti-neuraminidase, anti-atherogenic, anti-aging, anti-melanogenic, anti-tyrosinase, cytoprotective, cardiodepressive, antipsychotic, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and tissue healing activities.


Shell Ginger has outstanding antioxidant properties. Antioxidants act as shields for our bodies from free radicals. Antioxidants help us fight the free radicals that cause aging. Free radicals are one of the reason we age, and they cause our bodies to burn through energy faster and slow down our metabolism.

It is thought that free radicals can attack the cells in our body. They can cause cell damage and may also be linked to various other diseases. If you are not getting enough antioxidants in your diet, this can lead to oxidative stress, which can eventually lead to cell damage and risk of developing cancer, heart disease, and many other chronic illnesses and health problems.  It grows in Okinawa’s subtropical climate, it has thousands of phytochemicals that protect itself from strong sunlight.


Shell Ginger contains 34 times more polyphenols than red wine, which makes our Shell Ginger lifesaver supplement. The compounds in the polyphenols act like anti-inflammatory agents that stop the growth of inflammatory cells that cause inflammation. When the amount of polyphenols is increased, this makes the body’s inflammatory response to particle exposure much more effective. These same compounds also protect us from other health problems, like cardiovascular disease and cancer. They help keep us out of danger since they limit the growth of many of the carcinogens that are usually involved in cancer cells’ growth. This is why polyphenol intake is said to be an important component of a healthy diet.

For example, polyphenol here is 8000 types, and their absorption rates from the intestinal tract are all different. In general, its absorption rate is generally not high. The absorption rate of flavanol, chalcone, and isoflavone is about 5 to 30%. As the amount of these polyphenols increases due to fermentation, the amount of polyphenols in the blood also increases. So the anti-obesity, anti-oxidant, anti-glycation, anti-platelet, osteogenic, and neuraminidase inhibitory activities are enhanced.


Shell Ginger also contains carotenoids. Carotenoids have a low absorption rate of 0.1% to a few%, but if you eat a lot of them, most of them will be taken into the body in proportion to the amount you eat. Although still in the research stage, some carotenoids in shell ginger are significantly increased by fermentation. Carotenoids have various health-promoting effects similar to polyphenols. However, there should be beneficial enzymes and nutrients that are destroyed by fermentation. For example, curcumin in turmeric exhibits a liver function-improving effect. But curcumin must be metabolized to tetradehydrocurcumin by a special enzyme to exert its effect. If the enzyme is destroyed, curcumin is useless.

Okinawan Diet:

With a life expectancy of 84.55 years in 2019, Japan always on the top list when it comes longest life expectancy. Many longest-living people of Japan are from Okinawa where many residents are over 100 years old. Among the many reasons contributing to their longevity, nutrition and the Okinawan diet are said to be key elements for highest life expectancy and healthy lives in Okinawa. Shell Ginger has become the focus of different studies and can be said to be a substantial contributor to longevity in Okinawa. Shell Ginger has been used for various purposes in the lives of people living in Okinawa. Leaves of shell Ginger have long been used as packing materials for rice cakes Mochi and custom to eat it to pray for good health.

Kills Bacterial Infections:


Focusing on the traditional fermentation technique, we fermented Shell Ginger with the fungus Aspergillus niger. So, we discovered that some phytochemicals were significantly increased. We don’t know exactly how the many phytochemicals such as polyphenols, terpenoids, kava pyrones, phenylpropanoids, sterols, etc. are absorbed in the intestine.

Relieves Pain and Cramps:


Clinical trials conducted in Brazil showed that extracts of Alpinia zerumbet have hypotensive and diuretic effects whereas topical application of the essential oil has positive therapeutic effects on patients with fibromyalgia. Alpinia zerumbet is truly a multi-purpose Ginger plant with promising medicinal properties.

The leaves also work as a natural preservative and bug repellent and are used to help foods last longer. Okinawans use the leaves to wrap mochi (pounded rice cake mixed with kokuto (black sugar) or purple sweet potatoes, another staple in the traditional Okinawan diet), for steaming rice buns, meat or fish, or dried into a powder and mixed with buckwheat to make local soba. However, one of the most common ways to consume it, is by using its leaves and flowers to make Shell Ginger tea (one tea can have 34 times more polyphenols compared to red wine).

Shell Ginger tea has a beautiful golden brown color when steeped and a subtle flavor with floral and clove undertones, followed by a slight spicy Ginger aftertaste. Traditionally, this tea has been used to reduce fat absorption, increase metabolic rates, reduce inflammation and allergy symptoms, prevent high blood pressure and sudden rises in blood sugar, and improve digestion. The taste alone makes this a favorite when it comes to Japanese tea. The added potential health and longevity benefits keep us coming back for more! AtoumoIt is a plant very present in Martinique and in the Lesser Antilles. Moreover, it is often said that "there is not a house in the West Indies that does not have the atumo plant nearby".

Its major asset is its richness in bactericidal essential oil and antioxidants. It is also recommended against hangovers and flatulence, improving the digestion, and balancing blood pressure. To do this, we pick the flowers and leaves and infuse them with lime, the broken leaf and a red poppy bud. This tea or infusion is preferably consumed with honey and without the use of sugar. It is drunk very hot.

Traditional Uses of Shell Ginger:

  • Shell Ginger is used in the northeast and southeast of Brazil as infusions or decoction as a diuretic, anti-hypertensive and anti-ulcer genic.
  • In northeastern Brazil, it has been used widely in folk medicine as teas and infusions for the treatment of intestinal and cardiovascular diseases and as hypotonic agent for arterial hypertension and for its anti- inflammatory, bacteriostatic and fungistatic properties
  • Shell Ginger is popularly used as a diuretic, anti-hypertensive, anti-ulcerogenic and sedative.
  • The tea is recommended against stomach ulcers.
  • The rhizome is astringent, carminative, sedative, stimulant, stomachic and tonic.
  • A decoction of the leaves is used as a bath against fevers.
  • In phyto-therapy, the essential oil from the leaves of Shell Ginger is used for neuro-psychiatric symptoms, such as depression, stress and anxiety, and chronic problems that are associated with reproductive hormone imbalances in women.
  • Shell Ginger has been popularly recognized as an excellent hepato-protector in Chinese folkloric medicine.
  • Essential oil from Shell Ginger is widely used in Miao folk herbs in Guizhou province for the treatment of gastrointestinal and cardiovascular diseases
  • Plant has been used as a medicine against venoms of snakes and spiders in India.
  • Juice from boiled rhizomes, leaves, flowers and seeds is used to treat fever, stomach ache, bloating, indigestion and diarrhea in Vietnam.
  • It stimulates the digestion, and is therefore employed in the treatment of a wide range of digestive disorders including dyspepsia, flatulence, vomiting, gastralgia, colic and diarrhoea.
  • Decoction of the leaves is used as a bath against fevers in Philippines.
  • Rhizome stimulates digestion, and is also employed in the treatment of dyspepsia, flatulence, vomiting, gastralgia, colic, diarrhea and malaria.
  • Plant is used to treat stomach disorders, vomiting and dyspepsia in China.
  • Its rhizome is traditionally applied as a stomachic, carminative, astringent, tonic and sedative.
  • Tea made from the leaves is often used as a hypertensive and diuretic medication, particularly in Japan and Brazil.
  • In Manipur, fresh rhizome is applied to ringworm and other skin diseases.

Culinary Uses of Shell Ginger:

  • Shell Ginger rhizome is used as spice like Alpinia galanga.
  • It has a high value all over the world as a spice in culinary preparations and for its medicinal properties.
  • The leaves are used as perfumed wrappers for cooked rice.
  • Pith of the young stem near the rhizome is commonly eaten in some parts of Malaysia.
  • Aromatic leaves are used to wrap rice or fish for cooking in Ambon, Indonesia.
  • The plant’s long leaf blades are still used for wrapping zongzi.
  • Shell Ginger is known in the local dialect as sannin or in Japanese as ‘getto’ in Okinawa, Japan.
  • Its leaves are sold as herbal tea and are also used to flavor noodles and wrap mochi rice cakes.
  • Gettou soba is soba which has getto, which is well liked by Okinawans, kneaded into it.
  • Shell Ginger is used as food preservative in Okinawa.
  • Aromatic leaves are used to wrap rice or fish for cooking, particularly in Okinawa, Japan.
  • Tips of the young shoots, leaves and flowers are eaten boiled in parts of Asia.

Other Uses of Shell Ginger:

  • It is a popular ornamental plant in home gardens and public areas.
  • There is an ornamental cultivar with variegated leaves.
  • Plant has been used as source of fiber and the digested pulp has been used for making paper.
  • The leaf sheaths are sometimes used as fibre for making rope.
  • Both flowers and rhizomes are grown for their essential oils and as spice crops.
  • Fibers of the shoots and sometimes the whole plant are used for paper production and as a substitute for flax in times of scarcity.

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