Ginger, the overlooked, underused herb

All too often, as I peruse the produce department of the grocery, I find the ginger root looking a little old--sometimes even a little moldy. Despite the fact that ginger is simple to use, inexpensive and tasty as a tea or a spice, ginger is obviously not high on the list of frequently purchased or used produce items.

Ginger remains one of the herbal kingdom's gold mines of health and healing and possesses one of the herb kingdom's richest histories, loved and defended by royalty the likes of King Henry VII, the lowly ginger rhizome, has been a player in the creation and destruction of nations.

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. Used for its medicinal purposes it held great economic value. As late as the Middle Ages, a pound of ginger in England sold for one shilling seven pence, about the cost of one sheep.

Revered and mentioned in the Text of Islam and The Koran, ginger was considered spiritual and heavenly. Ginger would commonly be offered up on the alters of their Gods for spiritual healing.

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 given us so many healing gifts in this single herb called ginger.

What we called ginger root is actually a rhizome, or an underground runner or stem which the roots grow out from. All roots, rhizomes and barks are naturally high in plant based chemicals known as phytochemicals. These phytochemicals behave as antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal agents that protect the plant from natural bacterial flora in the soil. These dozens of natural properties contained in the ginger have modern science intrigued.

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 had experienced some relief from pain and swelling by using ginger. 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, nausea or reflux acid in the esophagus. Simply slice two pieces of a ginger rhizome, enough to equal one half teaspoon per cup into hot--not boiling--water. Allow it to steep for 10-20 minutes. Add honey to taste and sip. You may repeat this as often as needed for indigestion or nausea. Some of my clients undergoing chemotherapy find ginger tea a great relief for their nausea.

Ginger is a beautiful house plant! You can start one of your own and give another as a gift. 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 weeks 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 a world class herb for the 21st century!

Till next time, Rebecca

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online July 3, 2001

Back to The Zephyr