Ginger, (scientific name: Zingiber officinale) is the root of a plant native to Asia but cultivated in the West Indies, Jamaica, and Africa. It is one of the most widely used herbs in the world. Used for thousands of years previously, it was introduced to Spain by Francisco de Mendosa in the early 1500′s and from there to the new world.
Ginger is technically a tuber that creeps and grows underground. The stalk grows to be at least two feet tall. When it dies in the fall, the tuber is dug up, dried, and ground into the herb powder most commonly known. Uncoated or white ginger was washed and scraped to prevent sprouting. Some like the whiteness and thus it has been bleached or limed to achieve greater whiteness. This results in a loss of nutritional value. Coated or black ginger means the root was not peeled but immediately scalded after harvesting.
Let’s now see some of the health benefits of ginger. Chemicals in ginger herbs that give it value include volatile oil (up to 3%), acrid soft resin, lignin, gum, starch, vegeto matter, asmazone, acetic acid, potassium acetate, and sulphur.
Ginger has been used in traditional Asian medicine to treat nausea. Pregnant women report relief from morning sickness after consuming small amounts of ginger root, ginger tea, and ginger ale. When given in large doses, ginger also relieves chemotherapy related nausea. Many find ginger more effective in relieving motion sickness than Dramamine. It will also stimulate appetite, fight body odor, and promote perspiration.
Ginger helps treat joint pain by stimulating blood circulation. For this reason it is used to treat illnesses such as Raynaud’s syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis. Externally ginger makes the skin red.
Ginger relieves gastrointestinal distress and is often used to treat flatulence, indigestion, diarrhea, and menstrual cramps. It works by mimicking certain digestive enzymes the body uses to process protein in the body.
Ginger is good for the heart as well. Just five grams of dried ginger per day slows the production of LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides in the liver. Ginger also hinders platelets from sticking together, thus decreasing the risk of stroke or heart attack.
Some recommend ginger for relief of cold symptoms since it will loosen phlegm in the throat and fight chills by spreading a warm feeling throughout the body. Many like to cook with ginger as a seasoning or drink it as a tea. One teaspoon of the powder in a gingersnap cookie recipe is prescribed.
Ginger is of course available as a powder and root. It may also be purchased in capsules, extracts, pickles, and prepared teas. If you purchase ginger raw, be sure to avoid small, wrinkled, or soft tubers. The tea is made by steeping the powder in hot water. You can sprinkle it on food for flavoring as well. Normally limit the intake to an ounce of powder every three days. Preserved Ginger results from steeping the root in hot syrup. Ginger can be stored dry in your refrigerator for short periods or frozen as a root for up to three months.
A few cautions are in order. Since ginger helps thin the blood, don?t take it prior to surgery. Ginger may interfere with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and dietary iron, and may actually cause an upset stomach if too much is taken. Those taking blood thinners, barbiturates, beta-blockers, insulin or diabetes medications should consult their doctor about ginger since it could conflict with these medicines. Ginger may stimulate uterine contractions so pregnant women should be careful how much ginger they ingest.