Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a tropical perennial plant native to Southeast Asia that is also cultivated in West Africa and the Caribbean. The Latin name is derived from the Sanskrit word shringavera which means "horn shaped" and pertains to the horn-like protrusions on the rhizome.
For centuries rhizome of the ginger plant has been used as a spice in Asian cooking. Its healing properties did not go unnoticed in China and in India where ginger is used to this day to cure various ailments and health disorders. Ginger was described in the Classic of Herbs, a compilation by the Chinese around 3000 BC. Confucius (551 - 479 BC) praised its many benefits. The Greek physician and botanist Dioscorides (circa 40 - 90 AD) wrote about ginger's ability to soothe the stomach. Ginger was also valued by the Arabs and in the Ancient Roman Empire which imported it from Asia. The Romans introduced ginger to various parts of continental Europe and to Britain. The Vikings used it to prevent sea sickness.
Traditionally, ginger has been used to alleviate such health problems as nausea, infections of the upper respiratory tract, digestive disorders, and migraines and was even considered to be an effective aphrodisiac. Applied topically, ginger was used to cure rheumatism, arthritis, minor sprains, and burns.
Ginger contains powerful compounds such as shogaols, zingerone, and gingerols, that are potent antioxidants responsible for the remarkable healing properties of this spice. The rhizome is rich in protein, potassium, magnesium, copper, manganese, vitamin A, and vitamin B6. The ginger rhizome has a firm, but striated texture and a characteristic pungent and hot taste. Its flesh is either white or yellow in color and is quite aromatic.
Modern scientific research confirmed the ancient knowledge making ginger one of the most versatile medicinal plants. Healing benefits include the ability to alleviate or cure following health issues:
- Gastrointestinal disorders such as stomach ache, indigestion, diarrhea, and dyspepsia - active compounds in ginger increase the production of bile, reduce inflammation, and help detoxify the digestive tract.
- Motion sickness and vertigo - various studies demonstrated that ginger is as effective as many over-the-counter drugs. The exact mechanism in not yet well understood, but it is believed that ginger increases stomach acidity balancing at the same time the pressure in the inner ear canal.
- Morning sickness during pregnancy - for thousands of years ginger has been safely used for morning sickness that accompanies pregnancy. Ginger has no side effects and does not cause any birth defects. Practitioners of the Traditional Chinese Medicine, however, advise to use ginger rather sparingly during pregnancy and only to treat the morning sickness.
- Chemotherapy-induced nausea - studies conducted on cancer patients demonstrated that those who drank high protein shakes infused with ginger reported fewer episodes of nausea after their chemotherapy treatments.
- Cancer of the colon - in a study conducted at the University of Minnesota, gingerol exhibited a strong anti-tumor activity. It inhibits the action of a protein involved in the genesis of the cancer cells in the colon, thus preventing the growth of tumors.
- Ovarian cancer - gingerol has the remarkable ability to kill ovarian cancer cells. It induces apoptosis or a programmed cell death of these cells, as well as their self-digestion or autophagocythosis. The studies conducted at the University of Michigan also demonstrated that the ovarian cancer cells do not become resistant to ginger.
- The latest research shows that ginger also kills prostate cancer cells. Just like in the ovarian cancer ginger induces prostate cancer cells apoptosis. It even causes autophagy or a situation in which cancer cells attack other cancer cells.
- Inflammation - the active compound in ginger called gingerol is characterized by a very strong anti-inflammatory activity. Double-blind, placebo-controlled studies demonstrated that patients suffering from arthritis who took ginger over a longer period of time experienced less pain than those who did not. These patients also reported improved mobility.
- Weak immune system - ginger stimulates thymus gland and increases body's own ability to fight infections. It also has anti-microbial, anti-candida, and anti-parasitic properties.
- Common cold and flu - ginger reduces inflammation, eases congestion, and induces sweating, which helps speed up recovery from infections.
- Pathological blood clotting - studies conducted in Denmark and at the Cornell University demonstrated that ginger is a very potent anticoagulant and is, therefore, valuable in preventing cardiovascular disease. The active compound gingerol has a chemical structure that resembles that of aspirin.
- Elevated cholesterol - taken therapeutically over a longer periods of time, ginger has the capacity to lower the "bad" cholesterol and reverse the damage caused by diet high in fat, thus reducing the chance of stroke.
There is no established daily dose of ginger. The suggested dose is 150 mg of full spectrum ginger extract taken three times a day.
Ginger can also be taken in the form of tea or added to freshly made fruit and vegetable juices and, of course, added to many Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern dishes.
A powdered, dried ginger can be used to make a detoxifying, hot bath. Essential oil of ginger may be used topically as analgesic.
When buying ginger, fresh rhizome should be chosen over the dried one. Fresh ginger not only has a better aroma and taste, but it also contains higher levels of the active compound gingerol.
Like any other plant, ginger may cause allergic reactions. A caution is also advised for those who suffer from gall bladder disease as ginger increases the production of bile. As mentioned before, ginger has blood thinning properties. A caution is advised for those who take blood thinning medication.
By Dominique Allmon
*This information is for educational purpose only. It is not meant to diagnose or cure a disease.
Health Benefits of Ginger by Dominique Allmon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.