Ginger a culinary and medicinal marvel.

Image of ginger root and ground ginger.

Ginger belongs to the Zingiberaceae botanical family, which also includes the spices cardamom and turmeric. Characterized as a creeping perennial, it can grow to a height of 3 feet, with thick, tuberous, underground stems.

Ginger originates from tropical latitudes in southeastern Asia, India, and particularly, China, where its influence on the population’s palate has been felt for centuries. The spice arrived in Europe as a target of Roman trade with China, and demand for the herb in Europe quickly grew in both scope and volume.

Popular foods and condiments that employ its flavor include gingerbread, beer, and preserved ginger. English barkeeps of the 19th century offered ground ginger to sprinkle into beer as a flavor enhancer. The ancient Greeks were so smitten with its flavor that they baked it into their bread—the origin of gingerbread.

Look for it in five common forms: Whole fresh roots, dried roots, powdered, preserved or stem ginger, or crystallized ginger.

The plant, however has far more than culinary purposes within its scope. Reverence for its medicinal properties extends throughout recorded history. Reach for ginger to help with any of the following concerns:

COMMON COLD: Brew a tea when you feel a cold coming on. The tea warms you from the inside, promoting perspiration. Drink it anytime you feel a chill— whether you are sick or not.

SKIN TREATMENT: Topical use can stimulate circulation and soothe burns. Because it encourages perspiration, it can be used on the skin for feverish conditions such as influenza or colds.

OSTEOARTHRITIS TREATMENT: Herbalists prize the volatile oils contained in ginger root. The anti-inflammatory effects of its active compound, gingerols, give the oils their potency. Regular consumption of ginger has been documented to reduce pain and increase mobility in those with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis—without the serious adverse effects associated with NSAIDs or prescription drugs. As part of that meta-analysis examining the potential for ginger in osteoarthritis, researchers recommended that ginger be considered as part of osteoarthritis treatment.

SOOTHES THE DIGESTIVE SYSTEM: Tradition has indicated ginger for relieving gastric issues, particularly gas. Both colic and indigestion respond readily to ginger.

NAUSEA: Whether it stems from pregnancy, motion sickness, or chemotherapy, research shows that ginger can combat feelings of nausea in a wide range of settings. One review’s authors wrote: “The results of studies in this article suggest that ginger is a promising treatment for nausea and vomiting in a variety of clinical settings and possesses a clinically relevant mechanism.”

Although scientists consider ginger to have mild to no adverse effects, it does contain oxalates, the substance that accumulates to form kidney stones. Staying well-hydrated helps to flush oxalates from the body, but those susceptible to kidney stones should exercise moderation.

As you can see, ginger can be a first line of defense when addressing a broad range of complaints, regardless of the particular form you choose to consume. Always share information about your use of herbs and supplements with your healthcare professional.

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