If I were only allowed to take one herb on a desert island it would be a toss up between garlic and ginger. But with the current voluminous research on the humble rhizome, ginger would probably come tops in its versatility as both a medicine and a culinary staple.
As an ancient medicine in both China and India, ginger was hailed primarily as a heating herb – bringing warmth to ‘cool’ conditions of the lungs and stomach. There is documented proof of its spread to the West, at least 2000 years ago, in the Roman Empire. Later it became the darling of the spice trade.
As a modern herbalist, like the ancients before me, I have always loved the slow warmth that ginger brings to the body. Different to chilli, with its searing heat that causes a sweat and cools us down, ginger is the perfect winter spice. It has an affinity to warm the internal organs – such as the lungs, digestion and uterus.
Here are some reasons why you should keep some fresh ginger on hand (for tea) or as tablets or capsules (for an easy to take medicine)
Anti-nausea: Ginger is a powerful anti-emetic, what’s more it is considered to be safe and effective in treating nausea in pregnancy. It works well for motion sickness and has been used in post-operative and chemotherapy induced nausea. It is worth packing some ginger tablets for your next boating trip.
A strong cup of ginger tea has been known to help the general queasy and biliousness that results from drinking too much alcohol.
Bloating: Ginger can ease bloating and flatulence – either as a tea or tablet.
Coughs: In India a spoonful of ginger mixed with honey is still a favourite remedy for a cough.
Pain: Ginger has been found to be both a COX-1 and COX-2 inhibiter. Basically this means it is, amongst other things, antiinflammatory and an effective painkiller – without the negative side effects of the pharmaceutical drugs that achieve this (such as Vioxx). Before the scientific validation, ginger has long been used as a remedy for rheumatism and arthritis. Taking 2 ginger tablets is also a fast and effective treatment for period pain. Topically, in conjunction with a caster oil pack – it is traditionally used to treat adhesions such as in endometriosis and other causes of period pain. In Bali, the locals use ginger topically – placing a slice of the fresh rhizome on the forehead for headaches.
Cancer: More recent research suggests that ginger could be a key in preventing colon cancer. It is also being investigated in the treatment of ovarian cancer.
Ginger is considered safe to have in food but as a medicine (tablet, capsule, tincture, fluid extract) high doses it is theoretically problematic for people with bleeding disorders (it can slow down clotting activity), especially those on anti-clotting drugs like warfarin.
Other theoretical considerations can be viewed at medline.
Using fresh ginger
Look for plump, fresh roots where the flesh hasn’t dried out.
For tea: grate 1 tsp of ginger per cup of water. Simmer on the stove for about 10 minutes, as a root this is more effective than just steeping in a teapot. Strain and add a little honey as straight ginger can be very acrid to drink.
In food: fresh ginger is delicious in stir fries, curries, steamed fish, in soups with orange vegetables. It is a favourite in many sweet foods, such as gingerbread – however the sugar, fat and flour content tends to counteract the benefits. Good quality, naturally fermented ginger beer that hasn’t been over sweetened, can be useful for the early stages of nausea or indigestion.