Discovering Herbs: Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
by Alison Cullen
‘Let Food be your Medicine’ might have been a phrase written to indicate just this very herb. We are so used to ginger in biscuits, cakes, and spicing up our herb teas, that it is rather strange to think of it as a medicine. This knotty root is, however, full of healthy potential, both as a food and as a herbal remedy.
It is the ginger root that is used, either fresh or dried and powdered, similarly to garlic. As crystallised ginger and as tincture or tea it is used to reduce nausea. This is probably one of its most common uses and is applied whether the nausea is morning sickness, travel sickness or post-operative nausea.
Another traditional use is the Thai recommendation of using it to ‘sweeten the voice’. Singers have been known to take it before a performance to help clear the vocal chords, enabling a ‘purer’ tone to be produced, particularly at the upper or lower end of the vocal range.
Powdered dry ginger root has been shown to demonstrate anti-inflammatory effects in patients suffering from rheumatoid or osteoarthritis, reducing the pain experienced. Unlike conventional anti-inflammatory medication, ginger didn’t cause stomach irritation or ulceration, even after 3 months of use. In fact, one study showed it to inhibit stomach lesions. The anti-inflammatory action of ginger has led to it being used for migraines as well. The most active anti-inflammatory effect is found with fresh ginger preparations, as they probably contain more of the volatile oils.
Many people find that it has a calming, soothing effect on their digestive tract, relieving wind and reducing digestive spasm. The Chinese see it as a ‘blood tonic’, warming the blood and boosting the circulation. This latter application is borne out by the recommendation to use ginger for Raynaud’s Disease, which involves poor circulation to the hands and feet and causes excruciating pain when circulation is restored.
In the winter, its warming and soothing effect makes it a perfect addition to a cup of herbal tea, along with honey, lemon and cinnamon.