Like many of our medicinal herbs and spices, ginger has a long history of medicinal use that is making a comeback as more research verifies its value as a plant medicine. To say the very least, the health benefits of ginger are significant. Not only is it a deliciously sweet, spicy, and pungent flavoring, but ginger also happens to be wildly antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and more.
Plus, who doesn’t love ginger?!
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Meet Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
- The genus Zingiber is derived from a Sanskrit word meaning shaped like a deer’s antlers referring to its knobby, branched appearance.
- Ginger is native to southeastern Asia, but is now widely cultivated in tropical and sub-tropical areas around the world.
- Today, most commercial production of ginger is done in Jamaica, India, Fiji, Indonesia, and Australia.
- Ginger is a flowering plant, typically grown as an annual. Its leaves are lance-shaped or oblong, a deep green color, and usually have a waxy or glossy appearance.
- While we call ginger a root, it’s actually a rhizome. Rhizomes are essentially underground stems that grow (usually) horizontally and unlike roots, rhizomes have nodes from which other stems can sprout.
- All ginger root seems to come from the same species, Z. officinale. However, it’s said that depending on where it’s grown, its taste and smell can largely vary. (This doesn’t include ornamental varieties of ginger, of which there are over a thousand.)
- Depending on the variety, the flesh of the ginger root can be red, white, or yellow.
- While the leaves and shoots of gingers aren’t nearly as paid attention to, like the root, they are also edible. Most often they are used as a garnish, much like you would chives or green onions.
Using Ginger as a Food
The most popular use of ginger root, by far, is its use in the food industry as a flavoring. It’s probably best known for its use in Asian stir-fries, spice blends like curries and pumpkin pie spice, desserts like gingerbread, and beverages like ginger ale.
And while most of our herbs and spices that we mostly think of as mere flavorings, but that are actually nutrient powerhouses, ginger is surprisingly low in nutrients.
Bet you didn’t see that coming.
It’s true. Ginger root doesn’t contain a whole lot of nutrients. Nonetheless, it has an incredible flavor and aroma. Plus, the health benefits of ginger entirely make up for its low nutritional value.
Ginger Recipes You’ll Love!
The Health Benefits of Ginger
Ginger has a vast history of traditional medical use and can be found in ancient texts from all over the world, including early Sanskrit, Chinese, Greek, Roman, and Arabic medical literature.
Across all cultures, ginger has historical (and present day) use primarily as:
- a remedy for a wide variety of digestive ailments including gas and bloating,
- colds and flu support,
- an anti-nausea,
- and as an anti-inflammatory circulatory stimulant.
However, like herbalist Kami McBride says, “ginger root is truly the universal medicine.” In more recent times, the health benefits of ginger have been broadened to include antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anticancer activities.
Ginger & Digestion
As perhaps its most well-known health benefit, ginger is a strong ally to our digestive system. Over and over again, ginger has proven helpful in many digestive stressors, including sluggish digestion, flatulence, burping, and indigestion.
It can help to settle an upset stomach and enhance digestion by increasing bile secretion (helping to break fats down into useable fatty acids), as well as the activity of digestive enzymes.
For this reason, ginger is a great addition to our meals, promoting smooth and easy digestion. And when our digestion is functioning optimally, we can more easily absorb the nutrients we eat.
Ginger & Nausea
The effects of ginger on nausea associated specifically with pregnancy, chemotherapy, and postoperative side effects have been extensively studied for decades. Accordingly, many clinical studies have concluded that ginger is a safe and effective anti-nausea without the risks or side effects of pharmaceuticals, such as drowsiness.
Its use in India as an anti-nausea for pregnant women dates back centuries. However, this particular use has also been slightly controversial in the studies conducted. Some caution use in early pregnancy and others in late pregnancy. And while the clinical evidence is relatively limited, it’s always best to confer with a licensed and trusted health professional when using herbs medicinally while pregnant.
Interestingly, some studies have found that consuming fresh ginger or ginger tincture is a more effective anti-nausea than ginger tea. It’s thought that the essential oils that give ginger an anti-nausea effect are destroyed (or rather boiled off) in the process of decocting ginger root for tea.
Ginger & Immune Health
Due to its antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory actions, ginger root can provide easy, accessible, and valuable support to our immune systems. Because it’s so warming, drinking a simple cup of ginger tea can help you literally sweat out a fever.
During the colder months of the year, ginger is a great food and medicine to help warm your body and stimulate your circulation, helping you to stay healthy through cold and flu season. And if the seasonal ick finds you anyway, ginger can help to remedy coughs (especially wet ones) and lessen the duration of colds and flu.
Ginger & Inflammation
Ginger has also proven itself a highly effective anti-inflammatory. And because inflammation is such a widespread plague, this might be one of the most important health benefits of ginger. It might just be the single most prominent symptom of living on a planet we are increasingly poisoning.
Widespread diseases such as cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes, allergy, asthma, Alzheimer’s, many inflammatory skin conditions and digestive diseases, these have become a common, everyday part of the human condition and at their root is inflammation.
Among ginger’s many uses as an anti-inflammatory, it has been shown effective in helping with arthritis, allergic reactions (including seasonal allergies), inflammatory bowel diseases such as colitis, as well as muscle pain after intense physical activity.
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Ginger Root 101
|Family||Zingiberaceae (the ginger family)|
|Rhizome (or “root”)|
|Origin||Native to southern Asia, but now widely cultivated in tropical & subtropical areas worldwide.|
|Young ginger can be harvested at about 4-6 months old.|
Mature ginger can be harvested at about 10 months old.
|As a Medicine||Antioxidant|
|As a Food||Generally low in nutrients, but contains moderate amounts of vitamin B6 and minerals magnesium & manganese.|
|Caution(s)||Extra large doses may be contraindicated during pregnancy. ALWAYS consult with your licensed & trusted health professional. |
May be too warming for some people.
Dried root can be too hot & irritating to sensitive skin tissues (like vaginal tissue).
I hope this brief dive into the health benefits of ginger root helps you to see this incredible spice in a whole new light. Like me, maybe you also often stare deep into the abyss of your well-stocked spice cabinet wondering where to start when it comes to flavoring your food. And maybe next time you’ll consider reaching for the ginger.
To your utmost health!
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Resources & Further Reading
- Tilgner, Sharol. (2009) Herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth. Wise Acres.
- McBride, Kami. (2019) The Herbal Kitchen. Conari Press.
- Reading, Gina. (1995) Re: Monograph on Ginger: Zingiber officinale. ATOMS, 1:1. Retrieved from http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbclip/075/review41630.html?ts=1604685423&signature=8aec7ed0351ed23f671513d0201e827a
- Mashhadi, NS, Ghiasvand, R, Askari, G, Hariri, M, Darvishi, L, & Mofid, MR. (2013) Anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects of ginger in health and physical activity: review of current evidence. International journal of preventive medicine, 4(Suppl 1), S36–S42. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3665023/
- Stanisiere, J, Mousset, PY, and Lafay, S. (2018) How Safe Is Ginger Rhizome for Decreasing Nausea and Vomiting in Women during Early Pregnancy? Foods, 7:50. Retrieved from https://www.mdpi.com/2304-8158/7/4/50/htm
- Mao, QQ, Xu, XY, Cao, SY, Gan, RY, Corke, H, Beta, T, & Li, HB. (2019) Bioactive Compounds and Bioactivities of Ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe). Foods, 8(6):185. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.3390/foods8060185
DISCLAIMER: The information given in this article is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult with your healthcare practitioner before consuming certain herbs & medicinal foods, especially if pregnant, nursing, or taking any prescription medications.