Is Kahili Ginger Edible?

Dehydrated kāhili ginger flowers.

Although the Ginger (Zingiberaceae) Family is generally safe, info is sparse on kāhili  (Hedychium gardnerianum) as an edible. Although not expressed directly in any literature, I determined through inference and experimental practice, that yes kāhili ginger flowers, flower buds, rhizomes, and new shoots are edible in small amounts. 

We know that H. gardnerianum is considered to be a folk medicine of the people of Sikkim state in the Indian Himalayas [1]. There is evidence that H. gardnerianum was used as a ginger substitute in New Zealand during World War II food rationing [2].We also know that H. gardnerianum does not seem to have any strong toxicities in humans, dogs, cats, or horses [3] and that it is highly palatable to livestock [2] and used in ruminant feeding in some areas [4]. All of the evidence seems to indicate that uses of H. gardnerianum for both aroma and as a flavor/spice for ingestion are safe. It is always wise to start with a small amount when trying a food for the first time.

Yellow butterfly ginger (Hedychium flavescens) on the lower left, and white butterfly ginger (Hedychium coronarium) on top. We know that the chemistry of the three closely related species – H. coronariumH. flavescens, and H. gardnerianum – does not significantly vary and that they share most of the same dominant aromatic compounds.

White butterfly ginger (H. coronarium) is edible: its rhizomes are known to be eaten in India [5,6], and although it is described as a famine food, this assessment need not apply if new or creative edible uses of the plant can be found. Its flowers and flower buds are edible and can be used like a vegetable as well. 

Pulling kāhili ginger flowers off of the flower head is usually done while watching a movie and talking story with friends and family. 

Butterfly ginger flower wild yeast starters. Kāhili (H. gardnerianum), white (H. coronarium), and yellow (H. flavescens) are often described interchangeably in literature on the essential oils, so we can assume that many of the same medicinal qualities also are present in kāhili (H. gardnerianum).

Look for the orange butterfly ginger pin in the Savage Kitchen app & online foraging courses, coming in 2020. A “butterfly ginger” pin can be dropped anywhere you find kāhili (H. gardnerianum), white butterfly ginger (H. coronarium), or yellow butterfly ginger (H. flavescens).

sneak peek at the Savage Kitchen app map!


[1] ENVIS (Environmental Information System Center: Sikkim).[nd]. Medicinal and Aromatic plants in Sikkim. Gangtok (India): Forest, Environment & Wildlife Management Department, Government of Sikkim.

[2] NRC (Northland Regional Council). [nd]. Wild ginger, Pest Facts No. 4, Whangārei (New Zealand): Northland Regional Council.

[3] ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). 2017. Toxic and Nontoxic Plants: Kahali Ginger. New York (NY): ASPCA.

[4] Carvalho MJ, Carvalho LM, Ferreira AM, Silva AMS. 2010. A new xanthone from Hedychium gardnerianum. Natural Product Research 17(6):445-449.

[5] Lim TK. 2017. Edible Medicinal and Non-Medicinal Plants: Volume 12: Modified Stems, Roots, Bulbs.

[6] Kunkel G. 1984. Plants for Human Consumption: An Annotated Checklist of the Edible Phanerogams and Ferns. Oberreifenberg (Germany): Koeltz Scientific Books.


  1. Michael Prime says:

    This is great info, H. Garderianum grows like a weed in our garden. What are you making with the flowers and yeast?

    • Sunny Savage says:

      That’s great you have close access and we want to avoid further spread, utilizing the flowers helps slow propagation and you can also eat the rhizomes if you want to remove some of them. Check out the Savage Kitchen app for recipes with Kahili Ginger flowers and yeast!

  2. Mark Osborne says:

    Fantastic info thank u!
    In my country theres alot of disinformation, it’s a pest and everyone says poisonous and asthma “kill it with fire” etc…

    I have alot of it at my house. 6 very large trees. Now I know I can use it. I’m downloading your app now and hopefully I can learn more about what to do with it!

  3. Robyn says:

    I’ve been using fresh rhyzome of Kahili ginger in my smoothie as I can get it free. Although it is fairly tasteless, I know it is good for my body. I am an asthmatic and the asthma has not been worse since eating it. If anything my health seems to be improving.

    • Sunny Savage says:

      Aloha Robyn, thanks so much for sharing your experience! I like to think of it as a spice…something that doesn’t get eaten in large quantity…along the lines of galangal where it’s used for adding flavor in biodiversity in the diet but it’s not like you’re eating pounds and pounds of it. Again, thanks so much for sharing!

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