100+, see text
Some of the larger species have leafy shoots reaching almost 10 metres high, and the bases of these shoots are so stout as to seem almost woody. Others of the species grow as clumps of leafy shoots; while others have such long creeping Rhizomes that each of their leafy shoots can be more than a metre apart.
The Etlingera are native to India, Bangladesh, Burma, China, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei, Papua New Guinea, Queensland, and several Pacific Islands, predominantly close to the equator between sea level and 2500 metres. Members of the genus are also reportedly naturalized in other warm places (Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Central America, Mauritius, and the islands of the Gulf of Guinea.
Most commonly known species
Species of Etlingera are widely used for many different purposes and many of the species are therefore locally named and known.
A common use of the Etlingera is to pull out and eat the inner sheathes of the leafy shoots of some species: to eat either raw, cooked as a vegetable, or as a condiment (much in the same way as onions are used as a condiment). E. coccinea (known as "tuhau" in Sabah; no English name) and E. elatior (torch ginger) are especially cultivated and grown for this purpose.
The aromatic sweet and sour fruits of the Etlingera are also commonly eaten. Several species are used as medicines to treat headaches, or stomachaches, and, one species which itself has large distinctive red patches, (E. brevilabrumin), is commonly applied, externally, to relieve itching and assist treat skin problems.
Other uses made of various Etlingera species include as ingredients in local perfumes, as ingredients in local shampoo, and as an optional material for making mats, etc. In Borneo, a study of 40 species of Etlingera found more than 70% of these species had alternative local names, and more than 60% of them had at least one use amongst local peoples.
- Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
- POULSEN, Axel Dalberg (2006) Etlingera of Borneo Natural History Publications (Borneo). Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. ISBN 983-812-117-7.
- Flora of China v 24 p 356, 茴香砂仁属 hui xiang sha ren shu, Etlingera Giseke, Prael. Ord. Nat. Pl. 209. 1792.
- Sambal Tuhau: Sabah local dishes, Zezebel Ubil