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Ginger

Updated: Nov 18, 2023

By Ashley Curran


Scientific name: Zingiber officinale

Family: Zingiberaneae


Sacred ginger

An herb that is dry and warming herb utilized for cold and wet ailments. It also has impacts on serotonin and dopamine levels, making it a stimulating herb.

 

Overview & History


Ginger is the most abundant herbal remedy used globally, integral to medicine and diet. It has a slight peppery and sweet flavor, making it useful for both sweet and savory dishes. It is believed to have originated from Southeast Asia, most notably in India and China.[1] These countries still predominate in producing ginger today, although many others, including Nigeria, Nepal, and Indonesia, have made their way up the ranks.


Historical linguists believe that the term “zingiber” was from the ancient Indian Sanskrit, translating to “horn-shaped,” which was an indication of the shape. In other ancient languages, ginger translated to “physician,” due to its healing capabilities. During the plague period (in Medieval times), it was recommended as a means of treatment. Gingerbread, although believed to have originated in Greece, traveled to Egypt and then Italy where it became common throughout the Roman Empire. Like many other herbs and spices, ginger has historically been a hot commodity in terms of trade, especially amongst the Romans. It caused Emperor Augustus to break into the Arabic spice monopoly around AD 109[2]. Romans liked ginger for its less conventional uses, such as cosmetics, preservatives, and antidotes. The possession of spices was typically a symbol of wealth in many cultures due to the expense and limited availability.


India, being the largest producer of ginger globally has historically been referred to as “The Spice Emporium of the East.” It contained what was believed to be the best and most exported varieties of ginger, which were grown on the Malabar coast. It was used as a remedy for healing, aiding in relief from conditions such as stomach upset, asthma, cough, colic, anorexia, and dropsy (generalized swelling). Much of ginger's credibility today comes from its historic use and success.


Description


ginger root just harvested

Zingiberacea translates to ginger, which classifies an entire family of roughly 3,000 different species of plants. Some other members of the ginger family include turmeric, cardamom, torch ginger, ginger lily, etc.[3], all of which are native to an array of climates. The rhizome, or root, of ginger is the main source of its beneficial components, and where the most oil can be derived from. It is popular in many Asian dishes and is most commonly served alongside sushi to act as a pallet cleanser. It has a thin skin surrounding the potent part, which is only slightly durable and can easily be breached by scrubbing too hard.


Primary Uses


Ginger root offers a range of health benefits due to its anti-inflammatory, anti-nausea, and digestive properties. It is most known for its capacity to reduce inflammation, making it a valuable treatment for people suffering from arthritis, headaches, menstruation, and gastrointestinal inflammation. This reduction in inflammation also plays a role in cancer prevention, as long-term inflammation has been found to damage DNA, suppress immune function, and inhibit apoptosis (cell death). Ginger root contains gingerol, a chemical that enhances gastric motility, allowing food to pass through the stomach more efficiently. This can be especially helpful for individuals experiencing nausea, such as those undergoing chemotherapy or pregnant women. Additionally, it can help with other nausea-related conditions such as motion sickness and infection. Furthermore, ginger is a rich source of antioxidants, which are essential for eliminating free radicals. Free radicals cause damage to our DNA and other cells throughout the body. Antioxidants step in by donating electrons to free radicals, thus stabilizing them and reducing their potential to harm our health.


Other Potential Uses


In addition to the anti-inflammatory and antiemetic properties of ginger, it also acts as a stimulant, aromatic, diaphoretic, and analgesic. Ginger is renowned for its potential health benefits, attributed in part to its intricate mechanisms of action. The main active constituents in ginger include phenolic and terpene compounds, with phenolic compounds such as gingerols, shogaols, and paradols being the most significant. These compounds possess antioxidant properties, eliminating free radicals and combatting oxidative stress. It has been found to inhibit the production of cytokines, which are proteins released by the body that plays a crucial role in cell-to-cell communication. They have both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory effects; however, ginger is used to reduce the cytokines that promote inflammation. It is important to note that cytokines can be beneficial in order to fight infection. However, chronic inflammation has many adverse effects, and managing it is essential to the health of individuals. Ginger also contains other components that contribute to its nutritional value, such as polysaccharides, lipids, organic acids, and raw fibers. Its anti-microbial properties further bolster its natural healing capabilities. Due to the variety of compounds and chemicals ginger contains, its potential for therapeutic applications is vast.


Preparations


Ginger can be prepared in a variety of ways, including steamed, sautéed, dried, pickled, ground etc. It can also be utilized as an essential oil, although the oil variation should not be ingested. There is no significant difference in the nutrient content between fresh and dried ginger[4], however, dried ginger has a longer shelf life.


Pickled Ginger [5]


Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces fresh young ginger root, peeled.

  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

  • 1 cup rice vinegar

  • 1/3 cup white sugar

Directions:

  1. Cut ginger into chunks. Place in a bowl, sprinkle with sea salt, and stir to coat. Let stand for roughly 30 minutes, then transfer to a clean-lidded jar.

  2. Stir together rice vinegar and sugar in a saucepan until sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil, then pour the boiling liquid over the ginger root pieces in the jar.

  3. Allow the mixture to cool, then seal the jar. After a few minutes, the liquid may change to a slightly pinkish color, which is a normal reaction that occurs between eh rice wine vinegar and the ginger. Store in the refrigerator for at least 1 week.

  4. Cut pieces of ginger into paper-thin slices for serving.


Ginger tea


Ginger Tea [6]


Ingredients:

  • ¾ cup lemon juice

  • 1 medium-sized ginger rhizome

  • 1.5 liters water

  • Honey to taste


Directions:

  1. Smash the rhizome, which can be done with a potato masher, meat pounder, or muddler. Can also be blended, shredded, or minced depending on how much oil you want released.

  2. In a large pot, add lemon juice, water, smashed ginger, and however much honey is desired.

  3. Heat on high for an hour

  4. Allow to cool and enjoy! This tea can also be refrigerated to be iced if preferred.


Contradictions and Adverse Effects


Ginger, although a relatively safe herb, is recommended in moderation and is recognized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as generally recognized as safe (GRAS).[7] Ginger can interact with medications and should be used with caution, especially when taking anticoagulants and anti-platelet blood thinners like Warfarin, Heparin, Asprin (an NSAID), and Clopidogrel.[8] It has the potential to increase the potency of these medications, which are intended to slow down the blood clotting process. This combination can heighten the risk of bleeding or bruising. Additionally, ginger use during pregnancy and breastfeeding should be approached with caution due to limited research on its safety. Individuals in this circumstance should consult with their healthcare provider or herbalist prior to utilizing ginger supplements or consuming it in large amounts. Some other potential adverse effects are gastrointestinal discomfort, heartburn, and allergic reactions. It is recommended that humans should not consume over 3-4 grams a day to prevent heartburn and diarrhea.[9]This amounts to 1 teaspoon of raw grated ginger or ½ teaspoon of powder.

Growing/Harvesting Tips


Ginger thrives in hot and humid climates but can survive in zones 9-11 (according to the USDA) if temperatures remain above freezing. Warmer climates allow ample production, hence why it thrives in areas around the equator. It prefers moist soil and does not endure drought or flooding well. It can be planted either in the ground or in a pot, given that there is at least a 12-inch diameter of space surrounding it. Due to the rhizome being the most utilized portion, ginger thrives in soil that has a high concentration of organic matter, such as compost or peat. [10] It is ideal to plant it once nighttime temperatures are over 55° F consistently. It can tolerate sun, however, it does better when receiving dappled shade or is planted underneath another plant. If the newer rhizomes begin to peak over the top of the soil, covering them with more soil will encourage more growth. Once a ginger plant stops producing new leaves, it can be harvested at any time. This can be done similarly to harvesting a carrot by gripping the base of the plant and fully removing the rhizome from the ground.

Sourcing


Rhizomes or seeds can be bought from a grocery store; however, it is recommended when acquiring seeds to purchase them from a nursery or seed company in order to ensure they aren’t treated with sprout inhibitors. Additionally, a cost-effective and environmentally beneficial way to purchase ginger is from local farmers. When sourcing ginger, specifically ground ginger, you should look for a standardized version. Standardized herbs are herbal products that have been processed to contain a guaranteed minimum amount of active ingredients.


About the Author


Ashley Curran is a pharmacy technician and student at Eastern Connecticut State University. She is studying health sciences with a concentration in allied health in hopes of becoming a registered dietician. She is Phi Theta Delta Health Science Honor Society, which empowers upcoming health professionals to expand their education and ultimately improve patient outcomes. Alongside learning, sharing knowledge is a passion of hers. She values the holistic health approach and believes that every individual is capable of choosing their health path for themselves in order to promote overall well-being.


Bibliography

[1] Wilcox, Andy. “Ginger.” Almanac.com, May 19, 2023. https://www.almanac.com/plant/ginger. [2] O’Connor, Kaori. “Ginger and Gingerbread.” Horniman Museum and Gardens, October 15, 2021. https://www.horniman.ac.uk/story/ginger-and-gingerbread/#:~:text=The%20elite%2C%20medicinal%20and%20religious,for%20spices%20and%20other%20luxuries! [3] Kamaldin, Elizabeth. “Getting to Know Gingers.” Getting to know gingers, 2018. https://www.nparks.gov.sg/nparksbuzz/issue-38-vol-3-2018/conservation/ginger-garden. [4] Ayres, Sass. “Fresh vs. Dried Ginger - Is One Better than the Other?” Botany Culture, September 23, 2021. https://www.botanyculture.com/fresh-vs-dried-ginger-is-one-better-than-the-other/#:~:text=Although%2C%20in%20heating%20or%20cooking,isn%27t%20antioxidant%20at%20all. [5] Phoena. “Homemade Pickled Ginger (Gari).” Allrecipes, July 14, 2022. https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/100008/homemade-pickled-ginger-gari/. [6] Louise, Cynthia. “How to Make Homemade Ginger Tea from Fresh Ginger.” Chef Cynthia Louise, March 4, 2022. https://chefcynthialouise.com/how-to-make-homemade-ginger-tea-from-fresh-ginger/. [7] “Blood Thinners | Anticoagulants.” MedlinePlus, January 21, 2022. https://medlineplus.gov/bloodthinners.html. [9] “Why You Should Consider Adding Ginger to Your Diet.” UCLA Health System. Accessed October 11, 2023. https://www.uclahealth.org/news/why-you-should-consider-adding-ginger-to-your-diet#:~:text=How%20much%20ginger%20should%20you,as%20reflux%2C%20heartburn%20and%20diarrhea. [10] Wilcox, Andy. “Ginger.” Almanac.com, May 19, 2023. https://www.almanac.com/plant/ginger

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