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Using Ginger

For a cup of fresh ginger tea, one should steep about five or six thin slices of ginger root. A teaspoonful of the dried root may be used in a pint of hot water. Cover and let steep for 30 minutes. Herbalists have recommended hot dried ginger root tea, in wineglassful doses every couple of hours, to help allay symptoms at the onset of a cold, relieve mild nausea or mild diarrhea. Ginger tincture (in which the root is soaked in a menstruum of ethyl alcohol and water), sometimes labeled as "drops" or "extracts," are available in health and natural food stores. Herbalists recommend ten to twenty drops of ginger tincture in a little water with meals to counteract indigestion or help fight early symptoms of cold or flu. Some people, however, may not be able to tolerate the burning sensation caused in the stomach. Capsulated dried ginger root products, and capsulated products with standardized amounts of gingerol are also widely available. Read the product label for dosage and use information.

Selected References:

Awang, D.V.C. Ginger. Can. Pharm. J., (July); 309, 1992.

Blumenthal, M. et al. eds. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Austin, Texas: American Botanical Council. 2000.

Bone, M.E. et al. Ginger root - A new Antiemetic. The effect of ginger root on postoperative nausea and vomiting after major gynecological surgery. Anesthesia 45(8):669, 1990.

Bradley, P. R., ed. British Herbal Compendium. Vol. 1., Dorset, England: British Herbal Medicine Association, 1992.

Grontved, A., et al., Ginger Root Against Seasickness. Acta Otolaryngol (Stockh), 105:45-49, 1988.

Foster, S. and C. X. Yue. Herbal Emissaries: Bringing Chinese Herbs to the West. Rochester, Vt: Healing Arts Press, 1992.

Holtmann, S., et al. The anti-motion sickness mechanism of ginger. Acta Otolaryngol (Stockh), 108, 168, 1989.

Leung, A. and S. Foster. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Foods, Drugs and Cosmetics. 2nd. ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996.

Mowrey, D. B. and D. E. Clayson . Motion Sickness, Ginger and Pyschophysics. Lancet 20, 655-667, 1982.

Wood, C. D., et al. Comparison of Efficacy of Ginger with Various Antimotion Sickness Drugs. Clinical Research Practices and Drug Regulatory Affairs, 6(2):129-136, 1988.

Yamahara, et. al. 1990.. Gastrointestinal Motility Enhancing Effect of Ginger and its Active Constituents. Chem. Pharm. Bull. 38(2):430-431.

For more recent abstracts and references use the National Library of Medicine's PubMed site.

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Ginger Zingiber officinale — Your Food is Your Medicine
Article and Photography by Steven Foster

We all have memories of mom's home remedy, something she gave us whenever we complained of a minor upset, a sniffily nose, stomach upset or the like. For my siblings and me that wasn't chicken soup, it was ginger ale. Ginger ale served two purposes, both curative and placebo. Curative, in that few foods or spices, of which ginger is best known, are as well documented as medicinal plants as they are as food. The placebo effect grew from my child mind which associated ginger with ginger snap cookies. I thought I was getting cured with medicine of which cookies were made!

Ginger, consists of the fresh or dried roots of Zingiber officinale. In 1807, the English botanist William Roscoe (1753-1831) gave the plant the name Zingiber officinale. The ginger family is a tropical group especially abundant in Indo-Malaysia, consisting of more 1275 plant species in 48 genera. The genus Zingiber includes about 100 species of aromatic herbs from East Asia and tropical Australia. The name of the genus, Zingiber, derives from a Sanskrit word denoting "horn-shaped," in reference to the protrusions on the rhizome.

The ginger plant is an erect perennial growing from one to three feet in height. The stem is surrounded by the sheathing bases of the two-ranked leaves. A club-like spike of yellowish, purple-lipped flowers have showy greenish yellow bracts beneath. Unfortunately, ginger rarely flowers in cultivation.

The ginger of commerce consists of the thick scaly rhizomes (underground stems) of the plant. They branch with thick thumb-like protrusions, thus individual divisions of the rhizome are known as "hands." Ginger, both fresh and dried, has become increasingly popular in the United States in recent years. During the 1990s, on average, the U.S. imported more than 4,000 metric tons of ginger per year. Major world producers include Fiji, India, Jamaica, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and China. American imports come from China, several Caribbean Islands, Africa, Central America, Brazil, and Australia. Ginger is now commercially cultivated in nearly every tropical and subtropical country in the world with arable land for export crops. Although most ginger is imported, the best fresh ginger this writer has ever sampled was organic ginger grown in Hawaii.

Ginger in History

Ginger has been cultivated for so long that its exact origin is unclear. Cultivated for millennia in both China and India, it reached the West at least two thousand years ago, recorded as a subject of a Roman tax in the second century after being imported via the Red Sea to Alexandria. Tariff duties appear in the records of Marseilles in 1228 and in Paris by 1296. Ginger is known in England before the Norman Conquest, as it is commonly found in the 11th century Anglo-Saxon leech books. Ginger is detailed in a 13th century work, "Physicians of Myddvai," a collection of recipes and prescriptions written by a physician, Rhiwallon, and his three sons, by mandate of Rhys Gryg, prince of South Wales (who died in 1233). By the 13th and 14th centuries it was familiar to English palates, and next to pepper, was the most popular spice. A pound of ginger was then valued at the price of one sheep. Ginger, as a product of the Far East, was indelibly imprinted on the taste buds of Westerners before potatoes, tomatoes, and corn were even known to exist by Europeans.

In China, ginger is mentioned in the earliest of herbals. Dried ginger is first mentioned in Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, attributed to the Divine Plowman Emperor, Shen Nong, thought to have lived some 5,000 years ago. Fresh ginger was first listed in Ming Yi Bie Lu (Miscellaneous Records of Famous Physicians) and Ben Cao Jing Ji Zhu (Collection of Commentaries on the Classics of Materia Medica) both attributed to Tao Hong-Jing written during the dynasties of the North and South Kingdoms around the year 500 AD.

Fresh ginger and dried ginger are considered two distinct commodities. In fact, one author of an early ben cao (Chinese herbal) felt that they were so different that they must come from two different plants! The dried root is known as Gan-jiang. The fresh root is called Sheng-jiang. The fresh root is used to dispel pathogens via its ability to induce sweating. It expels cold, relieves nausea and "clear away" toxic matter. The dried root treats depleted yang, removes cold, is useful for "cold" pain of the stomach and abdomen, is useful for diarrhea due to cold deficiency, cough, rheumatism and many other uses. Experimental data developed by Chinese scientists verifies the ability of the dried root to "strengthen," the stomach while acting as a mild stomach and intestinal stimulant. It has also been shown to inhibit vomiting. Studies with fresh root showed that for the first few hours ginger tea reduced gastric secretions, followed by a longer period of stimulation. Animal experiments have also shown analgesic and anti-inflammatory activity.

Even in modern China, while an essential ingredient in almost any meal, it is also one of the most widely consumed drugs. Both fresh and dried roots are official drugs of the modern Chinese pharmacopoeia, as is a liquid extract and tincture of ginger. Ginger is used in dozens of traditional Chinese prescriptions as a "guide drug" to "mediate" the effects of potentially toxic ingredients. In fact, in modern China, Ginger is believed to be used in half of all herbal prescriptions.

Like the ancient Chinese, in India the fresh and dried roots were considered distinct medicinal products. Fresh ginger has been used for cold-induced disease, nausea, asthma, cough, colic, heart palpitation, swellings, dyspepsia, loss of appetite, and rheumatism. In short, for the same purposes as in ancient China. In nineteenth century India, one English writer observed that a popular remedy for cough and asthma consisted of the juice of fresh ginger with a little juice of fresh garlic, mixed with honey. A paste of powdered dried ginger was applied to the temples to relieve headache. To allay nausea, fresh ginger was mixed with a little honey, topped off with a pinch of burnt peacock feathers. One modern government health guide in India suggests 1-2 teaspoons of ginger juice with honey as a cough suppressant. Ginger is as popular a home remedy in India today, as it was 2,000 years ago.

Ginger is truly a world domestic remedy. It has been well-known in European homes for almost a thousand years. Asian cultures have used it for centuries. Indigenous groups of the Caribbean islands were quick to adopt it as a remedy after its introduction to America by Francisco de Mendoca. By 1585, in fact, it was an export from Santa Domingo. In Jamaica the warm steamy fumes of hot ginger tea are used as an inhalant to relieve head colds.

European tradition values ginger tea for digestive disturbances. The Family Herbal (1814) by English physician, Robert Thorton, praises the virtues of ginger, but his statements may say more about the social habits of the British of two centuries ago than they do of Ginger. "Dyspeptic patients from hard drinking, and those subject to flatulency and gout, have been known to receive considerable benefit by the use of ginger tea; taking two or three cupfuls for breakfast, suiting it to their palate"..."as ginger promotes the circulation through the extreme vessels, it is to be advised in torbid and phlegmatic habits, where the stomach is subject to be loaded with slime, and the bowels distended with flatulency."

Thorton, though, hints at another potential benefit of ginger - help for the heart. Studies by Japanese researchers indicate that ginger has a tonic effect on the heart, and may lower blood pressure by restricting blood flow in peripheral areas of the body. Further studies show that ginger can lower cholesterol levels by reducing cholesterol absorption in the blood and liver.

Ginger and its Modern Use

Ginger extracts have been extensively studied for a broad range of biological activities including antibacterial, anticonvulsant, analgesic, antiulcer, gastric antisecretory, antitumor, antifungal, antispasmodic, antiallergenic, and other activities. Gingerols have been shown to be inhibitors of prostaglandin biosynthesis. Danish researchers at Odense University have studied the anticoagulant properties of ginger and found that it was a more potent blood&emdash;clotting agent than garlic or onion. The same research group studied the potential use of ginger in the treatment of migraine, based on the long history of ginger use for neurological disorders by practitioners of India's traditional medicine system known as Ayurveda. The researchers proposed that ginger may exert migraine-headache-relieving and preventative activity without side effects.

Other scientific studies show that gingerol, one of the primary pungent principles of ginger, helps counter liver toxicity by increasing bile secretion. Ginger has potent anti-microbial and anti-oxidant (food preservative) qualities as well. A recent study, furthering ginger's reputation as a stomachic, shows that acetone and methanol extracts of ginger strongly inhibits gastric ulceration.

Several studies published in the last two decades have confirmed the traditional claims for use as an anti-vomiting or anti-motion sickness agent. In one study published in The Lancet researchers D.B. Mourey and D.E. Clayson found that capsules containing 940 mg. of dried ginger powder when given to persons who suffer from motion sickness, actually produced better results than dimenhydrinate, an antihistamine used in an over-the-counter motion sickness product. The 36 volunteers involved in the study were blindfolded and placed in a rotating chair for six minutes. Those who received the ginger capsules lasted an average of 5.5 minutes. Those who had the antihistamine held out for 3.5 minutes. A more recent double-blind randomized placebo trial tested ginger capsules on sea sickness. Eighty naval cadets, not used to heavy high seas were involved in the trial. Those who took the placebo experienced symptoms of seasickness. Those who received dried ginger root capsules had reduced tendencies to both cold sweats and nausea.

Other scientists, while finding these tests promising, believe that many more studies should be done before coming to conclusions on the value of ginger for motion sickness.

A NASA-sponsored study by researchers at Louisiana State University, published in 1988, concluded that dried powdered ginger given in capsules two hours before testing, or minced fresh ginger given one half hour before testing, was ineffective when used as an anti-motion sickness medication. Forty-two men and women were involved in the testing. They were subjected to testing periods in a special rotating chair. The study was conducted in response to that fact that 50% of Space Shuttle crew members experience motion sickness. The study did not involve testing the ginger itself to determine if it contained appreciable quantities of what is believed to be the primary active chemical component, gingerol, found in the essential oil, and responsible for the "hot" taste produced by ginger

In designing those future experiments scientists should dig a little deeper into the history of the cultures that have long used ginger as an antinauseant. There they may discover that fresh ginger root or ginger juice is used for this purpose in China not the dried root as recent experimenters have used. In the NASA-funded study, one&emdash;half to one gram of dried root was used and only one gram of fresh root. In Chinese traditional medicine a single dose of fresh ginger in a medicinal herbal tea prescription ranges from 3-9 grams. Six human studies on ginger's effects on motion sickness have been conducted since 1982, four European studies reporting positive results and two American studies reporting negative results. Inappropriate low dose and inferior quality plant material could contribute to negative results

Ginger's nausea reducing actions have been attributed to its ability to increase digestive fluids, plus absorb and neutralize toxins and stomach acid. Ginger has been shown to increase bile secretion, as well as increase the action and tone of the bowels. It has been shown to reduce the stickiness of blood platelets, hence may help reduce risk of atherosclerosis. Limited studies have suggested ginger may reduce morning sickness, as well as nausea after surgery. Both require a physician's supervision.

The dried roots have a synergistic action between compounds in the essential oil and pungent principles such as gingerol. Some products are now standardized to gingerol content.

In Germany, ginger products are allowed to be labeled for treatment of dyspeptic complains or prevention of symptoms of motion sickness. The average daily dose is 2 g of the dried rhizome. The German therapeutic monograph warns patients with gall bladder disease to avoid ginger. They also suggest not exceeding the recommend dosage. Individuals contemplating ginger use during morning sickness (short term only) avoid use when gall bladder disease is present.

Ginger is valued the world over, as a culinary herb, condiment, spice, home remedy, and medicinal agent. It is likely that ginger will be enjoyed and valued for the next millennium, and new research will undoubtedly reveal new value for this ancient herb.