Anyone who knows me well knows that I love ginger. I get through an inch or two of root ginger most days, just eating it raw or adding slices to herbal teas. When I was at college, we had various lectures that covered the herbs and spices, and unfortunately just listing all the properties each herb and spice has just doesn’t do them justice – it was a bit of a snooze fest and although the fact that they are “good for us” went in, I didn’t really pay them enough attention. I kept a lot of dried herbs and spices in my cupboards – usually years past their use by date and they rarely saw the light of day.
However, in the years since I’ve qualified, I’ve come to understand just how important they are. The list of properties many of them have include anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, antiparasitic, cholesterol lowering to name a few. When you try and think of this beyond just being a boring list, it’s actually incredible in terms of their potential to help people maintain or restore health. Most things with such an impressive list attributes would be bottled up and sold for a fair amount of money, yet we can grow some of them ourselves, or buy them fairly cheaply in most supermarkets.
I thought I’d take one and focus on that, as this is probably more likely to make an impact in terms of people adding something to their diet on a regular basis. Ginger is a great place to start. I also remember having a very vivid dream a few years ago, in which I was told to eat copious amounts of ginger. I don’t think all dreams have some deep and spiritual meaning, but some seem to stand out as having very clear messages, and this was one of them. So from that day on I started chopping it up and taking slices with me wherever I went – I decided to take the skin off first, even though I’m sure it’s very good for me, I just don’t get along with grit in my ginger. If you can get hold of organic ginger, then probably just rinse and keep the skin – it’s much smaller, so peeling is difficult. It’s also much more powerful, so you don’t want to use so much at a time.
Firstly, from a nutritional component point of view, ginger is packed with iron, vitamin C and potassium. It also contains magnesium, zinc and many of the B vitamins, including folate and B6. But ginger’s benefits go way beyond its high nutritional value. Like most herbs and spices, ginger, or zingiber officinale as it is technically known, has so many medicinal qualities. In fact, when I started to look at the amount of studies done on ginger, it was incredible how much I found. Too much to try and give a proper analysis in one blog, so instead if you are interested you can click on this link to a great website called Green Med Info. It’s a database of the science behind natural healing. You don’t have to become a paid-up member, as you get access to a fair amount of information without paying. If you click on the link it will take you to a page that is full of links to studies and abstracts on the uses of ginger. http://www.greenmedinfo.com/substance/ginger
To summarise some of the most common uses though, ginger is fantastic for digestive health. Certain compounds in ginger are known to stimulate saliva and bile production, which is vital for digestion. Ginger also appears to have beneficial effects on the enzymes trypsin and pancreatic lipase, and to increase motility through the digestive tract. This suggests ginger helps with constipation. Related to gut health issues, ginger is also well known for reducing nausea. This is why it is often a home remedy for nausea during cancer treatment or for helping with motion sickness as well as during pregnancy.
Given the time of year, the use of ginger for cold and flu relief is worth a mention. Ginger has powerful antimicrobial properties, which make it idea for keeping winter bugs at bay. But also, during cold weather, drinking ginger tea is good way to keep warm. It is diaphoretic, which means that it promotes sweating, working to warm the body from within.
Ginger is also known for helping with painful symptoms during a woman’s menstrual cycle, and also for reducing exercise-induced muscle pain. One of its key properties is that it acts as an anti-inflammatory. This is thought to be why people use it for such a wide number of conditions – as inflammation goes hand in hand with so many chronic health complaints. Other possible uses include reducing cholesterol, lowering the risk of blood clotting, and helping to maintain healthy blood sugar levels – i.e. cardiovascular health and diabetes. More research is needed though in this area.
So how do you increase your ginger intake? Well although it’s added to lots of foods in the form of ginger flavouring, ground ginger, or even lumps of crystallised ginger, unfortunately ginger biscuits aren’t going to cut it. Now I realise not everyone will want to eat pieces of pure, raw ginger. But why not start by adding some slices every day in to some hot water – with a dash of fresh lemon and honey, this makes a great drink through the winter. If you can, eat the slices once you’ve finished. If I feel I’m coming down with a cold then I up my ginger intake and I swear it makes a difference. Even if you still have a cold for a day or so, the symptoms don’t seem to be so severe, and you don’t feel you are knocked off your feet for so long.
So give it a try and see if you can make ginger part of your regular diet. Once you get started on the ginger you’ll probably want to look at other herbs and spices, so check out this previous blog on the power of herbs and spices.