Sunday, August 3, 2008

Ginger Root's Medicinal Value

By Susannah Singer

Ginger is one of the most widely used herbs in the world. We use the root of a plant native to Asia but today cultivated in the West Indies, Jamaica, and Africa. Francisco de Mendosa introduced ginger to Spain in the early 1500's (and from there to the new world) but its value was known in the far east long before that.

Ginger powder comes from a perennial tuber type root (like a potato) that creeps and grows underground. The stalk has narrow leaves and grows to be about two feet tall. In the fall the tuber is harvested, dried, and ground into the herb powder. Black or coated ginger means the root was immediately scalded (not peeled) after harvesting. White or uncoated ginger was washed and scraped to prevent sprouting. To whiten it even more, white ginger is at times bleached or limed but this process robs it of some of its value.

Ginger's value is found in chemicals like potassium acetate, lignin, acrid soft resin, gum, vegeto matter, asmazone, volatile oil (up to 3%), acetic acid, starch, and sulphur.

Ginger will stimulate appetite, fight body odor, and promote perspiration. It is best known as a traditional Asian medicine to treat nausea. It has relieved morning sickness as well as the nausea related to chemotherapy. Some say ginger is more effective in relieving motion sickness than Dramamine.

Ginger also helps treat joint pain by stimulating blood circulation causing redness of the skin. This makes it effective in treating illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis and Raynaud's syndrome.

Often ginger is used in the treatment of indigestion, flatulence, menstrual cramps and diarrhea and relieves gastrointestinal distress. It is effective because it copies some digestive enzymes used to process protein in the body.

Ginger is beneficial to the heart as well. As little as 5 grams of dried ginger a day slows the production of triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol in the liver. Ginger also prevents platelets from sticking together, a condition that would increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Many like its flavor and aroma and like to use it in cooking as a seasoning or a tea. One online recipe for gingersnap cookies calls for one teaspoon of ginger powder. It is also a popular treatment for cold symptoms for it is said to loosen phlegm and spread a warm feeling throughout the body thus fighting chills.

Ginger is available in capsules, pickles, extracts, and prepared teas that can be made into compresses. The ginger root may also be consumed raw, but avoid small, wrinkled, or soft tubers. Steep ginger in hot water to make a tea, or just add it to a variety of dishes. The usual dosage is 1/3 of an ounce of fresh ginger root per day. Preserved Ginger is made by steeping the root in hot syrup. Store ginger root dry in your refrigerator for short periods. You can also freeze ginger root for up to three months.

If you are pregnant, it would be wise to restrict your use of ginger because it may stimulate uterine contractions. People taking beta-blockers, insulin, blood thinners, barbiturates, or diabetes medications should consult their doctor before using ginger because it may conflict with some of these medications. Ginger may also reduce the absorption of dietary iron and fat-soluble vitamins, and actually upset the stomach in higher doses. Also, ginger helps thin the blood. Therefore avoid taking it two weeks prior to surgery.

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