Botanical name: Zingiber officinale
Prized for its medicinal and culinary properties in Asian cultures for thousands of years, ginger, also known as ginger root, is an underground rhizome. It's a little strange-looking, like a small, rounded, brown cactus. But the fragrance is pleasantly pungent, and the flavor completely unique, reminiscent of citrus with acidic notes.
Ginger is a versatile addition to soups, sauces, marinades, and a number of other dishes, from baked apples to stir-fried vegetables. A cup of tea, of course, is one of its hallmarks, not just for pleasant flavor, but soothing qualities.
Early Roman traders carried ginger from Southeast Asia to Europe, where it became a hit by the Middle Ages. It was very expensive, but even then renowned for healing capabilities. Henry VIII even suggested it as a remedy for the plague. Spanish explorers introduced it to the West Indies, South America, and Mexico, which began exporting it back to Europe in the 16th century. Today, Jamaica, India, Fiji, Indonesia, and Australia are some of the top commercial producers.
Fresh ginger root is best for both flavor and nutritive qualities, but organic powdered ginger is an excellent alternative that, if refrigerated, can last up to a year. When purchasing fresh ginger, make sure the root is firm, smooth and mold-free. Young, tender roots can be found in many Asian markets, while larger, tougher ginger roots are sold in the produce section of most supermarkets. Both keep very well frozen for up to six months.
To get the most of its complex, flavorful nuances, add ginger at the beginning of your cooking as well as toward the end, and peel it as little as possible.
Health Benefits of Ginger
A good source of vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, copper, and manganese, ginger is listed as an herbal medicine with carminative effects: a substance that promotes the release of intestinal gas. It's also an intestinal spasmolytic, which relaxes and soothes the intestinal tract. That means it can settle an upset stomach, relieve vomiting, and ease gas and diarrhea discomfort; but it's also effective in preventing nausea in the first place.
Made into hot tea, ginger releases the compounds gingerol and protease, bringing a rush of comforting warmth that actually increases cardiovascular circulation.
Numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of ginger as a pain reliever, but the way it eases nausea and vomiting has to do with its ability to stimulate the flow of saliva. This is particularly effective for morning sickness (very safe, with only a small dose required) and motion sickness (said to be even more effective than the over-the-counter drug Dramamine).
Ginger reduces side effects associated with chemotherapy, including dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and cold sweating. Studies also show ginger to be protective against osteoarthritis pain and several cancers, including ovarian, colorectal, lung, and breast cancers.
Ginger Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 1 cup of chopped ginger (104 grams)
Amt. Per Serving
Studies on Ginger
Problems associated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications or NSAIDs (being a leading cause of gastropathy) prompted a randomized, controlled study testing 340 mg of ginger extract against diclofenac (a prescription drug) as a therapy to treat osteoarthritis of the knee or hip. Forty-three patients were divided; half were given ginger and the other half 100 mg of diclofenac for four weeks (as well as 1000 mg of glucosamine) daily. Gastrointestinal pain, dyspepsia, and esophageal mucosa levels were evaluated in each.
The ginger patients reported higher mucous levels and significantly lowered dyspepsia pain, while the diclofenac group showed increased dyspepsia pain and a significant decrease of stomach mucosa.1
Research also resulted in the conclusion that ginger may be a promising candidate for the treatment of breast cancer,2 and a compound extracted from ginger root was also shown to be toxic to colorectal cancer cells in other research, which scientists concluded may prove useful in colorectal cancer prevention.3 Studies also found that ginger neutralized and inhibited the proliferation of a lung cancer cell line, indicating a promising chemopreventive effect against lung cancer.4
Ginger Healthy Recipes: Pickled Cucumbers with Ginger
- 4 cucumbers, peeled
- ½ cup sea salt
- 1 cup brown rice vinegar
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 6 tablespoons sliced fresh ginger, peeled
- Slice the cucumbers very thinly. Place in large bowl and sprinkle ½ cup sea salt. Using your hands, toss the salt throughout the cucumbers and lightly squeeze the slices as you toss. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour. The salt will draw the water content out of the cucumbers.
- Pour the cucumbers and liquid into a colander to drain. While in the colander, use your hands to squish out as much water as possible. Return cucumbers to bowl.
- Add the vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, and ginger. Toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate 12–24 hours.
- Remove from refrigerator and taste. It should be tart with a bit of sweetness and spice. Adjust flavors if necessary by adding more sugar or pepper. If it tastes watery, drain some liquid and add more vinegar.
This recipe makes four servings.
(From Healthy Recipes for Your Nutritional Type by Dr. Mercola)
Ginger Fun Facts
Ginger ale was invented in 1852 by a doctor in Ireland. It was America's favorite beverage by the 1880s, and thousands of bottlers tried to create a new ginger-based obsession using all kinds of secret ingredients and spices. But cola edged it out by the end of World War II.
The motto "Better living through chemistry" compelled ginger ale makers to abandon pure ingredients and pursue chemically-enhanced concoctions that included artificial flavors and high fructose corn syrup.
There's hardly a culinary use that ginger can't enhance. But while ginger cookies, ginger tea, and ginger in stir-fries, salad dressings, and desserts are tasty, this ancient root has some of the most important curative and preventative capabilities on the planet.
Drinking hot ginger tea releases the compounds gingerol and protease, increasing cardiovascular circulation. It's effective in preventing nausea and easing vomiting from motion sickness, morning sickness, and chemotherapy, and can help reduce osteoarthritis pain and joint inflammation, sometimes even better than prescription drugs. It also protects against several cancers, including ovarian, colorectal, lung and breast cancers.
The beauty of ginger is that this humble-looking root herb is so versatile, and can be used in nearly every type of food. Try mixing a teaspoon of organic powdered ginger in a gallon of iced tea for a refreshing and soul-healing thirst-quencher.
- 1 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22784345, Influence of a specific ginger combination on gastropathy conditions in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee or hip, Oct. 2012
- 2 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22969274, Differential Control of Growth, Apoptotic Activity, and Gene Expression in Human Breast Cancer Cells by Extracts Derived from Medicinal Herbs Zingiber officinale, Oct. 2012
- 3 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22224285, Cytotoxic activity and cell cycle analysis of hexahydrocurcumin on SW 480 human colorectal cancer cells, Oct. 2012
- 4 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22043989, Growth inhibition of human non-small lung cancer cells h460 by green tea and ginger polyphenols, Oct. 2012