My colleague, Green Plate Special columnist Christine Burns Rudalevige, has written this week about making sugar syrups to use in sodas and cocktails from garden herbs, berries, roots and rhizomes she can find – as much as possible – locally.

She shared her drinks ingredients list with me, and among the items on it, the one struck me immediately was ginger. I had assumed that ginger root, the type sold in stores, couldn’t be grown in Maine, and that the types of ginger my wife and I grow in our garden – European and Canadian ginger – were inedible.

As is often the case, I was wrong on both counts.

Diane Carbone, co-owner with husband Greg of Morning Glory Farm at 591 New Gloucester Road in North Yarmouth, grows baby ginger root to sell at their farm stand; it costs $16 a pound.

Root ginger is a tropical plant. According to the website, it will keep its leaves all year and survive outdoors in Zone 10, while losing its leaves in winter in areas as cool as Zone 7. Either way, such requirements preclude outdoor locations in Maine.

Carbone orders the ginger root she plants from an online source, and was just about to place her order when we talked in early November. She said she won’t start the seedlings until about March, however, and it takes some work.

She breaks up the root into fingers and plants them in flats, which she puts in a bathtub she encloses in plastic and heats so she can keep the temperature close to 80 degrees. The flats must be watered regularly. She transfers the seedlings to a plastic greenhouse when the temperatures begin to get warm in June, and while she raises the sides of the greenhouse when the summer heat kicks in, the ginger remains under cover all year long. It’s harvested in the fall – she was about to harvest the last of her crop when we spoke.

“What we harvest is baby ginger,” Carbone said. “The season is too short to get mature ginger, so there is no brown skin.” (At the grocery store, you’ll almost always find mature ginger root.)

Once it is harvested, slice or grate the ginger to add to your cooking (baby ginger needn’t be peeled), and it stores well in the freezer, too.

The Gardening Knowhow website says you can grow ginger in containers, following the same basic methods that Carbone uses but bringing the containers inside once night-time temperatures drop to 50 degrees.

My wife Nancy and I grow European and Canadian ginger, Asarum europaeum and Canadense – which aren’t even in the same family as root ginger, Zingiber officinale. And while the leaves of both Canadian and European ginger are poisonous if eaten in significant quantities, the roots have been used as a folk medicine. Plants for a Future,, says Canadian ginger roots and flowers can be in place of true ginger; they taste like a mix of ginger and pepper but more aromatic. I don’t think we’ll try it.

The other ingredients my fellow columnist Christine says she uses to flavor sugar syrups are much more common in Maine.

Rosemary is a woody shrub, hardy to Zone 7, which means you will have to bring it inside for winters in Maine. That can be tricky if you don’t have a sunroom or at least a south-facing window. If your plant doesn’t get at least six hours of bright sunshine a day, it will need a fluorescent light to supplement the natural light. Don’t let the soil in the pot dry out completely, but make sure that the top of the pot is completely dry before watering.

Thyme is easier to grow in Maine, as it’s a Zone 5 plant. It works as a ground cover here and is so tough you can walk on it. It works nicely between bricks on a walk or a patio, releasing its wonderful fragrance when you step on it. It likes full sun and well-drained soil, and should be trimmed back in the spring.

• Lemongrass is a tropical, obviously not hardy in Maine, but it can be overwintered by cutting down the stalks and bringing the plant inside. Keep it in a south-facing window and lightly water it over the winter, before replanting it outside again come spring.

Basil is a tender annual, usually grown in the vegetable garden. It can be direct-seeded in Maine in late May, but it will do better if you plant seedlings in early to mid-April and transplant them outdoors when all danger of frost is past.

Nancy and I don’t grow mint, mostly because we don’t like it. Also, it’s aggressive – likely to take over your entire property. If you do plant it, put it in the middle of your vegetable garden and plant other crops around it. That way you will eradicate the mint when planting peas, corn, tomatoes or other good crops.

I still wouldn’t take a chance on it, as it’s difficult to remove. But I suspect avid cooks, like Christine, might think it’s worth the risk.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living and gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: [email protected]

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