Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor and nothing in this article should be taken as medical advice. Please talk to your doctor before using any of the herbs and/or remedies mentioned in this article.
It’s an ingredient in holiday cookies and breads. It’s served in pickled form with sushi. It’s recommended to mothers-to-be to help with morning sickness, and it’s a popular ingredient in soft drinks as well as beer and wine. It’s ginger, and it has been prized for centuries across the world for its health and nutritional benefits.
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What we think of as ginger is actually the annual root (or rhizome) of a flowering herbaceous perennial plant that is botanically known as Zingiber officinale. The plant is related to turmeric and cardamom.
Native to southern Asia, ginger’s cultivation spread to China, India, and the Middle East in ancient times. Today the tropical plant is grown in the South Pacific, the Caribbean, and East Africa, and it can be grown indoors under proper conditions.
Ancient Chinese, Arabic, Sanskrit, Roman, and Greek texts describe the use of ginger for medicinal purposes. Ginger’s benefits are linked with its active ingredient, which is known as gingerol. According to the USDA, ginger is packed with carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and protein, and it also offers sodium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Let’s look at some of the amazing health benefits of ginger, and then we will see how you can add ginger to your menu and your health regimen to harness these benefits.
Health Benefits of Ginger
1. Eases Nausea
Ginger can work to treat and help prevent nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy, seasickness, and motion sickness. There is some clinical evidence ginger also can help relieve nausea caused by anesthesia or chemotherapy.
A 2014 study published in Nutrition Journal found that ginger was more successful than a placebo in relieving nausea and vomiting. The following year, another study of 363 patients found that ginger was more effective than a placebo for post-surgery nausea and vomiting. A 2012 study found published in Integrated Cancer Therapy found that ginger helped to reduce nausea caused by chemotherapy in women treated for advanced breast cancer.
2. Helps Migraine Pain
Ginger also can help treat the pain associated with migraine headaches. The NIH reports that a 2012 clinical trial with 100 participants found little difference between treatment with ginger and treatment with Sumatriptan (also known as Imitrex), one of the top-selling drugs for the treatment of migraines.
Most study participants reported moderate or severe pain at the start of the trial. After taking either the drug or ginger, they were reported they were either had mild pain or no pain.
3. Reduces Muscle Soreness
Ginger is effective against muscle pain associated with exercise. Two separate studies conducted in 2010 found that participants experience better pain reduction after taking ginger than after taking a placebo.
4. Helps Alleviate Arthritic Stiffness and Pain
The Arthritis Foundation’s website reports that ginger has anti-inflammatory properties that are similar to those found in ibuprofen and COX-2 inhibitors (such as celecoxib). In a controlled trial of 247 osteoarthritis sufferers in 2012, those who consumed ginger reported less pain and required less pain medication.
5. Promotes Heart Health
Studies from the University of Maryland Medical Center connect ginger with lower “bad” cholesterol levels and with a blood-thinning effect. The anticoagulant effect may help prevent heart attacks and stroke in some people. Ginger also works to lower blood sugar levels, which can improve heart disease risk factors in people with type 2 diabetes.
6. Aids Indigestion
Ginger helps the body absorb nutrients and minerals from the foods we eat and, as a result, it can aid in the digestive process. Ginger also helps induce the elimination of painful stomach gas and pressure and can prevent additional gas from building up in the stomach.
7. Lessens Menstrual Discomfort (Dysmenorrhea)
Ginger is a traditional and natural way to treat the pain of menstrual cramps and bloating. Results from a 2015 clinical study also suggest that ginger may help reduce heavy menstrual bleeding.
8. May Contain Anti-Cancer Properties
More research is needed, but early trials indicate that the 6-gingerol compound found in raw ginger may be effective against certain forms of cancer, including breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and pancreatic cancer.
9. Boosts Brain Function
The antioxidants in ginger can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain which are thought to be factors in age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Ginger consumption also may improve reaction time and short-term memory.
10. Fights Infection
Gingerol, the substance found in ginger root, can be effective in fighting inflammatory mouth diseases, including periodontitis and gingivitis. Ancient medical practitioners have prescribed ginger tea for cold and flu sufferers for centuries for the way it induces sweating, thereby removing toxins from the body.
Fresh ginger also is effective against the common cause of respiratory infections, the RSV virus.
11. Promotes Healthy Skin
Ginger contains a compound called dermcidin, an anti-inflammatory agent that can help in the treatment of skin problems, eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, and acne. Ginger can provide skin soothing and detoxifying benefits when added to a warm bath.
All you have to do is add a half-cup (eight tablespoons) of freshly grated ginger to a standard bathtub of warm water. Or stir two rounded teaspoons of organic ginger powder into the water.
How To Store and Use Ginger
Now that you know the benefits of ginger, let’s learn how to select, store, and use this valuable commodity.
Like most foods and spices, the fresh, whole form of ginger offers the most benefits. Fresh ginger root, which is available in the produce section of most grocery stores, has better flavor and higher levels of gingerol than its dried forms.
Ginger is typically sold in two forms — young and mature. Mature ginger – the kind you are more likely to find at your supermarket — has a tough outer layer that requires peeling. Young ginger, which you might locate at Asian markets, does not require peeling. When selecting either form of ginger root, examine it to make sure it is free of mold and has a firm texture with few or no wrinkles. The aroma should be peppery and strong.
You can store fresh unpeeled ginger in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. Unpeeled ginger will keep for six months or longer in the freezer.
As with choosing the dried forms of other herbs and spices, look for organically grown ginger that has not been irradiated. Store dried ginger in a sealed glass container in a cool, dark, dry place.
Ginger is also available in crystallized, candied, and pickled forms. You also can find it in tinctures, extracts, supplements, capsules, oils, lozenges, and teas, either in health food stores or online.
Now here are some ways to incorporate ginger into your health and dietary routine for taste and health benefits.
• Cut fresh ginger into thin slices and add them to smoothies or juices.
• Grate fresh ginger and add to soups and salads.
• Mix fresh ginger or dried ginger into sauces, marinades, curries, and stews.
• Add ginger to homemade cakes, muffins, cookies, and candies.
• Brew ginger tea. Thinly slice a two-inch piece of ginger root. Add slices to hot water and let boil for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the strength you prefer. Carefully remove the tea from the heat, strain out and throw away the ginger pieces. You may add lemon juice or honey to your tea or drink it as is.
• Make fresh ginger juice. You can use a juicer or peel and grate a piece of ginger and then use cheesecloth to squeeze out the juice. You can drink this juice or add it to a stir-fry. Or if you are coming down with a cold, try a “power shot” of 2 ounces each of fresh wheatgrass and ginger juice to boost immunity and clear congestion.
• Make some ginger energy bars.
• Make ginger salad dressing. Simply mix the following ingredients in a bowl:
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger root
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
• Add a teaspoon of dried ginger to your morning mug of coffee.
• Make a jar of ginger marmalade.
• Whip up a batch of ultra-healthy carrot ginger soup. Here is the recipe.
- One-pound (or 5 medium-sized) carrots
- 2½ oz red lentils (5 tablespoons)
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
- 2 cups of water
- 1 teaspoon of sea salt
- ½ cup pureed tomatoes
- 2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
- 1 teaspoon ground paprika
- Parsley (to taste)
- Heat water in a soup pan.
- Add lentils and chopped carrots.
- Grate fresh ginger into the pan.
- Add sea salt, tomatoes, and paprika.
- Bring mixture to boil and then allow it to simmer for about 20 minutes.
- Add the condensed milk at about 18 minutes.
- Blend the mixture until smooth.
- Add chopped fresh parsley and serve.
The nutritional profile for 100 grams of fresh ginger root:
- Calories – 79 calories
- Carbohydrates – 17.86 g
- Dietary fiber – 3.6 g
- Protein – 3.57 g
- Sugar – 0 g
- Sodium – 14 mg
- Iron – 1.15 g
- Vitamin C – 7.7 mg
- Potassium – 33 mg
Other nutrients found in ginger in lesser quantities include zinc, Vitamin B6, magnesium, folate, phosphorus, riboflavin, and niacin.
Growing Your Own Ginger
If you are or you become a fan of fresh ginger, here are the steps to growing your own indoors.
- Begin with a living ginger root from a nursery, garden center, or seed company. Select a root that is firm with tight skin and several eye buds that look like the eyes on a potato. Each bud can develop into an individual plant.
- Soak the ginger root in warm water overnight.
- Ginger roots grow horizontally so you will need a shallow, wide plant pot with well-draining potting soil.
- Place the ginger root with the eye bud pointing up and cover it with two inches of soil. Water lightly.
- Place the pot in a warm location that and doesn’t get a lot of direct sunlight.
- Keep the soil moist but be careful not to overwater.
- After two to three weeks, you should notice some shoots coming up.
After a few months of growth begins, you can harvest small pieces of ginger by moving the soil at the edges of the pot to locate the rhizome (continuously growing stem) under the surface. Cut a small amount and then replace the soil, allowing the plant to continue to grow.
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