Ginger is an erect perennial herb that has thick tuberous rhizomes (underground stems and roots). Ginger’s botanical name, Zingiber officinale, is likely derived from its Sanskrit name, singabera, meaning “horn-shaped.” The rhizome is branched with small “arms,” usually 2 inches/5 centimeters in circumference. A piece of the rhizome is often called a “hand.” It has a pale yellow interior and a skin varying in color from brown to off-white. Jamaican ginger, which is pale buff, is regarded as the best variety.
African and Indian ginger is darker-skinned and generally inferior, with the exception of Kenya ginger, and its ﬂesh can be yellow, white, or red in color, depending upon the variety. The brown skin may be thick or thin, depending upon whether the plant was harvested when it was mature or young, respectively. Ginger rhizome has a ﬁrm yet striated texture and boasts a taste that is fragrant, pungent, and hot. Interestingly, according to Chinese tradition, dried ginger tends to be hotter energetically than its fresh counterpart.
Ginger is available in various forms:
1. Whole fresh roots. These provide the freshest taste. The roots are collected and shipped when they are still immature; the outer skin is a light green color.
2. Dried roots. These are sold either “black” with the root skin left on, or “white” with the skin peeled off. The dried root is available whole or sliced.
3. Powdered ginger. This is the buff-colored ground spice made from dried root.
4. Preserved or ‘stem” ginger. This is made from fresh young roots, peeled and sliced, then cooked in a heavy sugar syrup. The ginger pieces and syrup are canned together. They are soft and pulpy but extremely hot and spicy.
5. Crystallized ginger. This is also cooked in sugar syrup, then air-dried and rolled in sugar.
6. Pickled ginger. The root is sliced paper thin and pickled in a vinegar solution. This pickle, known in Japan as gari, often accompanies sushi to refresh the palate between courses.
Ginger is native to southeastern Asia, India, and China, where it has been a very liberal component of the diet. Ginger is found in ancient Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern literature and has long been valued for its aromatic, culinary, and medicinal properties. Ginger has also been important in Chinese medicine for many centuries and is mentioned in the writings of Confucius.
The Romans ﬁrst imported ginger from China almost 2,000 years ago. From that time its popularity in Europe remained focused in the Mediterranean region until the ninth century. Because ginger had to be imported from Asia, it remained a relatively expensive spice.
Nevertheless, it was still in great demand. As a result, Spanish explorers introduced ginger to the West Indies, Mexico, and South America in an effort to increase its availability. By the sixteenth century, these areas began exporting the precious herb back to Europe. Subsequently it became so popular in Europe that it was included in every table setting, like salt and pepper.
A common article of medieval and Renaissance trade, it was one of the spices used against the plague. In English pubs and taverns in the nineteenth century, bartenders put out small containers of ground ginger for people to sprinkle into their beer—the origin of ginger ale.In recent times, the top commercial producers of ginger include Jamaica, India, Fiji, Indonesia, and Australia.
Ginger Health Benefits
Historically, ginger has a long tradition of being very effective in alleviating symptoms of gastrointestinal distress. In herbal medicine, ginger is regarded as an excellent carminative, a substance that promotes the elimination of intestinal wind, and intestinal spasmolytic, a substance that relaxes and soothes the intestinal tract. These properties can be attributed to its volatile component.
Modern scientiﬁc research has revealed that ginger possesses numerous therapeutic properties, including carminative and intestinal spasmolytic effects, antioxidant effects, an ability to inhibit the formation of inﬂammatory compounds, and direct anti-inﬂammatory effects. A combination of ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, and coriander is carminative and stimulating to the digestion.
An indication of ginger’s action in eliminating gastrointestinal distress is offered by recent clinical studies with ginger in preventing the symptoms of motion sickness, especially sea- sickness. In one early study ginger was shown to be far superior to Dramamine, a commonly used over-the-counter and prescription drug for motion sickness.
In the study, eighteen male and eighteen female volunteers who had previously indicated an extreme susceptibility to motion sickness were randomly divided into three groups. The ﬁrst group received a placebo, the second 100 milligrams of dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), and the third 940 milligrams of powdered ginger root 25 minutes before testing.
The subjects were then blindfolded, led to a concealed mechanical rotating chair, spun around, and asked to report their feelings of nausea every 15 seconds while they performed mental tasks. The test was stopped when the subject either vomited or asked that it be stopped. Subjects who received ginger remained in the chair an average of 5% minutes, compared with an average of 3% minutes for the dimenhydrinate group and 1% minutes for the placebo group.
Once nausea began, however, the sensations of nausea and vomiting progressed at the same rate in all groups. Ginger root appears to be equally effective for automobile, airplane, train, or boat trips. It reduces all symptoms associated with motion sickness, including dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and cold sweating.
However, unlike dimenhydrinate, which works on the central nervous system, ginger affects the gastrointestinal tract and slows the feedback interaction between the stomach and the nausea center in the brain by absorbing and neutralizing gastrointestinal hormones, toxins, and acids.
Ginger has also been used to treat the nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy, including hyperemesis gravidarum, the most severe form of pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting. This condition usually requires hospitalization.
In a double-blind trial, ginger root powder at a dose of 250 milligrams four times a day brought about a signiﬁcant reduction in both the severity of the nausea and the number of attacks of vomiting in nineteen of twenty- seven cases of hyperemesis gravidum during early pregnancy (less than twenty weeks).
Ginger also contains very potent anti-inﬂammatory compounds called gingerols. These substances are believed to explain why so many people with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis experience reductions in their pain levels and improvements in their mobility when they consume ginger regularly. Gingerols inhibit the formation of inﬂammatory cytokines, chemical messengers of the immune system.
To test the ability of ginger to reduce inﬂammation, a preliminary clinical study was conducted on seven patients with rheumatoid arthritis in whom conventional drugs had provided only temporary or partial relief. One patient took 50 grams per day of lightly cooked ginger, while the remaining six took either 5 grams of fresh ginger or 0.1 to 1 gram of powdered ginger daily.
All patients reported substantial improvement, including pain relief, increased joint mobility, and decreased swelling and morning stiffness.In the follow-up to this study, twenty-eight patients with rheumatoid arthritis, eighteen with osteoarthritis, and ten with muscular discomfort who had been taking powdered ginger for periods ranging from three months to two and a half years were evaluated.
Based on clinical observations, the researchers reported that 75 percent of the arthritis patients and 100 percent of the patients with muscular discomfort experienced relief in pain or swelling. The recommended dosage was 500 to 1,000 milligrams per day, but many patients took three to four times this amount. Patients taking the higher dosages also reported quicker and greater relief.
Ginger contains high levels of active substances, so dosages do not have to be high in order to produce beneﬁcial effects. Although most scientiﬁc studies have used powdered ginger root, fresh ginger root at an equivalent dosage is believed to yield even better results because it contains active enzymes. Most studies utilized 1 gram of powdered ginger root.
This would be equivalent to approximately 10 grams or 1/3 ounce of fresh ginger root, roughly an inch/1/2 centimeter slice. For nausea, ginger tea made by steeping one to two 1/z-inch/1—centimeter slices (one V 2- inch/1-centimeter slice equals 2/3 ounce/20 grams) of fresh ginger in a cup of hot water will likely be all you need to settle your stomach.
For arthritis, some people have found relief consuming as little as a 1/4-inch/‘/2—centimeter slice of fresh ginger cooked in food, although in the studies noted above, patients who consumed more ginger reported quicker and better relief.
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How to Select and Store Ginger
Fresh ginger can be purchased in the produce section at most supermarkets. Ginger is generally available in two forms, either young or mature. Mature ginger, the more widely available type, has a tough skin that requires peeling, while young ginger, usually available only in Asian markets, need not be peeled. Fresh ginger can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three weeks if it is left unpeeled.
Whenever possible, choose fresh ginger over dried since it is not only superior in ﬂavor but also contains higher levels of gingerol as well as ginger’s active protease, its anti-inﬂammatory compound. The bronze root should be fresh- looking, ﬁrm, smooth and free of mould, with no signs of decay such as soft spots, mildew, or a dry, wrinkled skin.
If fresh ginger is not available, dried ginger is widely available. Just as with other dried spices, when purchasing dried ginger powder, try to select organically grown ginger, since organically grown spices are much less likely to have been irradiated.
Ginger is also available in several other forms, including crystallized, candied, and pickled. It can be found in these forms in Asian markets and natural food stores. Dried ginger powder should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark, dry place for no more than six months.
Tips for Use of Ginger
A paring knife is the best utensil to remove the skin from fresh, mature ginger; gently push it off using the tip of a spoon. The ginger can then be sliced, minced, or julienned. It is important to note that the strength and taste that ginger imparts to a dish depend upon its timely addition during the cooking process. If it is added at the beginning, it will create a subtler taste; however, if you add it near the end, it will be much more pungent.
Ginger is an important spice in cooked dishes but can also be used as a fantastic addition to fresh fruit and vegetable juices, especially pineapple, carrot, and apple. Ginger tea can also be made.
Quick Serving Ideas for Ginger
• Ginger tea is great to drink when you feel a cold coming on. It is a diaphoretic tea, meaning that it will warm you from the inside and promote perspiration. It’s also good when you don’t have a cold and just want to warm up and feel good! If you have a juice extractor, juice a 1-inch/21/2 centimeter slice of ginger and 1/4 lemon and add it to 1 cup of hot water; otherwise you will need to chop the ginger up into ﬁne pieces and let it steep in the hot water. For extra ﬂavor, you may want to add 1/s teaspoon of nutmeg or cardamom.
• Ginger alternative to lemonade: First add ginger tea to ice, then add Xylitol, honey, or some other natural sweetener.
• To jazz up rice side dishes: Sprinkle 1/2 tea- spoon each diced ginger, sesame seeds, and nori strips over the rice.
• Combine 1/2 teaspoon grated ginger, 2 table- spoons rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon tamari, 4 tablespoons raw sesame oil, and 1 mashed clove of garlic to make a wonderful salad dressing.
• Add 1 teaspoon grated ginger and 2 table-spoons maple syrup to 2 cups pureed sweet potatoes.
• For a more pungent stir-fry, add 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger to each cup of vegetables while cooking.
Ginger contains moderate amounts of oxalate. Individuals with a history of oxalate-containing kidney stones should avoid over consuming this food.