Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a delicious root that is used in cuisines around the world. Its sweet-but-spicy flavour is unmistakable and it can be used to enhance the flavour of soups, curries, beverages and desserts. This versatile plant is closely related to turmeric, galangal and cardamom. Besides its culinary prowess, ginger has many health benefits and is widely used in natural medicines.
Did you know that the name ‘ginger’ comes from the middle-age English word ‘gingivere’? However, this spice dates back over 3000 years when Indians first started using it for food and healing. Its Sanskrit name was ‘srngaveram’, meaning ‘horn root’. The Indians and Chinese are believed to have first used ginger root as a tonic to treat various ailments. It gained popularity over the next millennium as methods of traveling became more advanced. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, half a kilogram of ginger could buy a sheep.
Medicinal uses of ginger
Ginger’s unique aroma and taste come from the presence of specific ketones, specifically gingerol, within the root and leaves. The root (technically called a rhizome) is the key part of the plant used for cooking and traditional healing. It can be used to treat the symptoms of colds, flu, nausea and infections. It can also be ingested to treat stomach ailments, including motion sickness, diarrhea, flatulence, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and a loss of appetite.
Ginger has strong anti-inflammatory, anti-nausea and antioxidant properties which makes it effective at treating pain-related illnesses, including arthritis, menstruation, migraines, bronchitis and diabetes. There are over 155 chemical compounds within the rhizome and these have been the focus of many scientific studies. Researchers have shown that these compounds work in the stomach and intestines, as well as the brain and spinal cord.
Ginger can be consumed in many ways; fresh, dried, powdered, pickled, preserved, candied and in a hot water infusion. The following dosages have been scientifically-recommended; for nausea and vomiting, 1 gram of ginger daily; for painful menstruation, 250 mg of ginger extract, four times a day; for dizziness or vertigo, 1 gram of ginger.
Where is ginger found?
Wild ginger is native to tropical Asia, including India, China and Japan. The cultivated plants that we consume can be grown in many warm climates around the world, as long as there is enough water and sunlight. Around three million tonnes of ginger are grown every year, one-third of which comes from India alone.
There are many varieties of ginger, some of which are quite rare, but this particular species is not threatened due to its value as an agricultural plant and useful natural resource. Next time you’re feeling under the weather, be it nauseous or suffering from a cold, try putting freshly grated ginger in hot water and drinking it.
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