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October 19, 2015

As the weather cools and we start enjoying hot spicy foods, such as apple cider and pumpkin pie, understanding some of the herbs used in these tasty treats will help us value them more. One great warming and soothing herb that we often use is ginger.

Ginger’s History

Ginger appears in China’s first great herbal, the pen Tsao Ching (Classic of Herbs), compliled by Shen Nung around 3000 B.C. Historically, it has been used to prevent motion sickness, for gynecological problems, arthritis, kidney problems, fever, and more. Chinese sailors would chew on ginger to prevent seasickness. The Chinese consider ginger an antidote to shellfish poisoning, which is why, even now, it is often used in seafood dishes and with sushi.

The ancient Greeks adopted ginger as a digestive aid, and after big meals they ate ginger wrapped in bread. This later developed into what we now know as gingerbread. The Romans also used ginger as a digestive aid, but after the fall of Rome, it became scarce in Europe. When trade in Asia was renewed, the demand for ginger was almost insatiable. In England and America, ginger was made into a drink called ginger beer, which later became ginger ale.

Ginger’s Benefits: Modern scientific research has validated ginger’s traditional use and has also discovered more benefits.

Gastrointestinal Relief: Ginger is a well-known herb that has primarily been used to alleviate gastrointestinal distress. It is an excellent carminative (substance that helps eliminate gas), and intestinal spasmolytic, a substance which relaxes and soothes the intestinal tract.

Motion Sickness: A double-blind study demonstrated that ginger is very effective in preventing all symptoms associated with motion sickness including sea-sickness, such as dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and cold sweat. Its effectiveness was far superior to Dramamine, a commonly used drug for motion sickness.

Relief of Nausea in Pregnancy: Ginger has been very useful in reducing the nausea and vomiting of pregnancy, even the most severe form, hyperemesis gravidum. A review of six double-blind, randomized controlled trials with a total of 675 participants, published in the April 2005 issue of the journal, Obstetrics and Gynecology, has confirmed that ginger is effective in relieving the severity of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. The review also confirmed the absence of significant side effects or adverse effects on pregnancy outcomes.

Immune Boosting Action: Ginger is known to promote healthy sweating. It is recommended to take as a hot tea when one is sick or has a fever. The tea causes one to perspire and helps to eliminate toxins and break the fever. It also is known to increase the white blood cell count which helps to fight off infection.

Anti-inflammatory: Ginger contains very potent anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols. By consuming ginger regularly, many people with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis experience reductions in their pain levels and improvements in their mobility. In a study published in the February 2005 issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, ginger was shown to suppress the pro-inflammatory compounds, cytokines and chemokines. Cancer Help In 2003, at the Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research, Phoenix, AR, research presented suggested that the main active components in ginger, gingerols, may inhibit the growth of human cancer cells. Furthermore, lab experiments presented at the 97th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer, by Dr Rebecca Lui and her colleagues from the University of Michigan, showed that gingerols kill ovarian cancer cells by inducing apoptosis (programmed cell death) and autophagocytosis (self-digestion).

Ginger is very concentrated so you do not need to use much. For nausea, steep one or two 1/2-inch slices in boiling water. For arthritis, consume 1/4-inch or more of fresh ginger in food or straight. Those who consumed more ginger reported quicker and better relief. I trust this has helped you, and encourages you to add more ginger to your diet.

We’re here to help you!

Amy Willis, Your Local Herbalist

Resources: Healing Herbs by Michael Castleman,  pp. 186-189