From the earliest written Arabic records, lucrative ginger trade routes were secretly guarded, and for years, trade in spices such as ginger was the measure of an empire's wealth and power. Arab traders protected their passages and personal supplies of ginger from the Greeks and Romans by fabricating stories of a land inhabited by a primitive and ruthless people. Ginger was used for its medicinal purposes and therefore had great economic value, but was also mentioned in the text of Islam, the Koran, as spiritual and heavenly. As late as the Middles Ages, a pound of ginger in England sold for one shilling sevenpence about the cost of one sheep.
Today if one had the time and knowledge to explore the ways in which ginger works, we would discover a virtual pharmacy of organic compounds that combine to produce its taste, fragrance, and therapeutic effects. Nature has a way of giving us so many things in one neat little package. The ginger that we know and use it actually not a root but a rhizome, botanically speaking. A rhizome is an underground runner or stem which the roots grow out from. All roots, rhizomes, and barks have naturally occurring plant based chemicals known as phytochemicals that behave as antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal agents otherwise they would not be able to withstand the natural bacterial flora in the soil. It is these properties, these phytochemicals, that modern science is now so intrigued by. Ginger has been proven to have dozens of naturally occurring beneficial phytochemicals.
Recent studies have explored ginger's ability to help arthritis sufferers. A two year study, performed in Denmark reported that 56 patients with various forms of arthritis showed that three-fourths of the participants, experienced some relief from pain and swelling. None reported side effects from regular doses of ginger. Other studies have shown ginger can inhibit blood clotting and clumping of platelets. This research based on an outpatient cardiology clinic in Israel now recommends their patients use powdered ginger daily to help inhibit blood clotting before prescribing the daily use of aspirin.
My favorite use for ginger as with most herbalists is for indigestion or nausea regardless of the cause. Slice two pieces of a ginger rhizome, enough to equal one half teaspoon per cup into hot, not boiling water, and allow it to steep for 10-20 minutes. Add honey to taste and sip. You may repeat this as often as needed for indigestion on nausea that is not of a serious nature.
Ginger is a beautiful house plant and you can start one of your own, or give it as a gift that will be everlasting. Start with a fresh ginger rhizome from your grocery store. Sprouts will grow from the "eyes" just like a potato. Position the eyes at the soil surface. It may live outside in the summer. About a year after planting, your ginger should be ready to harvest. Pull the plant up gently, cut off the leaves and fibrous roots, use what you need and replant the rest. Whole ginger can be stored for a while in the refrigerator or can be frozen for longer periods of time.
Ginger has a multitude of uses in cooking as well as medicinal purposes. It is cheap and easy to use, flavorful and therapeutic. Truly an herb for the 90s!
Till next time, Rebecca.