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The ginger herb

Posted Sep 11 2009 4:57pm

The multipurpose herb, ginger, not only livens up so many recipes, but also is used to ward off colds and flu, increase circulation and has other numerous advantages.

Ginger is a perennial herb that thrives in most parts of southern Asia, Jamaica, Nigeria, and the West Indies. The English botanist William Roscoe gave the plant the name Zingiber officinale in an 1807 publication. The genus Zingiber comprises approximately 85 species of fragrant herbs from East Asia and tropical Australia. The name originates from a Sanskrit word meaning "horn-shaped," in reference to the bulges on the rhizome [underground stems].

The plant has recently been cultivated in Florida, California, and Hawaii. Purple orchid-like flowers grow on the stalks of the wild plant. The most common part of the plant known for its multi-faceted use is the thick tuberous rhizome root that is brown on the outside but a dark yellowish amber hue on the inside.

Ginger yields an essential oil that is steam distilled from the unpeeled, dried and ground root. The scent is somewhat bitterer than the root but when used in aromatherapy the oil mixes well with sandalwood, cedar wood and patchouli, adding a woody-spicy scent to the mix.

Growing Ginger:

Ginger is a tropical plant that thrives in fertile, moist and well-drained soil. When growing naturally, “cone like spikes three inches long at the end of a 6 –12 inch stalk; corolla composed of two ¾ inch yellow green segments and one purple lip, spotted and striped with yellow; occur between one inch long, overlapping, green bracts [specialized leaves].” (Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs). Commercial ginger doesn’t flower, and bears no fruit. The ginger plant isn’t very large, not growing more than four feet in height. The leaves are grass like and up to a foot long. The ginger plant requires a lot of water and partial shade.

In commercial growing, the rhizome is broken up and planted about two inches below the surface of the soil and each plant maintains a distance of about a foot and a half apart from each other. The herbaceous ginger plant grows in a clump and spreads slowly by rhizomes.

Harvesting Ginger:

In small herbal gardens, a garden fork is ideal. When the rhizomes reach 4 to 7 months of age they’re ready to be used for fresh preparations. Allowing the ginger root to mature slightly longer, 8 to 9 months will produce a root that is more pungent and ideal for dried preparations.

Qualities of Ginger:

This stimulating herb is warming to the system. In her book '10 Essential Herbs' author Lalitha Thomas describes the properties: “The major active ingredients in ginger are terpenes [quite similar to the chemical action of turpentine] and an oleo-resin called ginger oil. These two, and other active ingredients in ginger, provide antiseptic, lymph-cleansing, circulation-stimulating, and mild constipation relief qualities along with a potent perspiration-inducing action that is quite effective in cleansing the system of toxins.”

Herbalists recognize ginger as a “carrier” herb and often use it in small quantities with other herbs to spread it through the human system at a faster rate.

Ginger in the West:

Although ginger has been cultivated for thousands of years in India and China, there are reports of it being used by Romans as far back as the second century as a taxable imported item. In France it was used around the 1200s and made the journey across the English Channel where it was warmly received as a culinary spice, second in popularity to pepper. One pound of ginger was the equivalent to the price of one sheep.

Ginger & China:

In China today, half of all herbal prescriptions contain some form of ginger. According to Chinese medicine, there is a huge difference between fresh and dried types of ginger. The fresh root is called Sheng-jiang and is used to chase away pathogens due to its ability to induce sweating. It expels cold, relieves nausea and sweeps away toxic waste.

Fresh ginger root is what you’ll find the most beneficial in easing your colds and flu symptoms. One whiff of a fresh ginger root will have you starting onto your road to recovery. It’s a distinctive scent, highly aromatic, and images of far off lands might come to mind. Once it’s consumed, it radiates outwards, warming your body and clearing away your illness. Fresh ginger can be added to food or brewed into a tea.

Dried ginger root, Gan-jiang, also removes cold, and is useful for stomach pain, diarrhea due to cold deficiency, cough, rheumatism and several other uses.

Both fresh and dried roots are certified drugs of the modern Chinese pharmacopoeia, as is a liquid extract and tincture of ginger.

Ginger for Seasoning & Baking:

Whether fresh or ground, ginger is a marvelous spice as well as a delicious non-alcoholic beverage. Ginger used in baking livens up cookies, cakes, muffins, and breads and naturally helps create a traditional Christmas decoration/dessert: the Gingerbread House.

The fabulous ginger root has a citrusy spicy flavor that perks up native Chinese, Caribbean, and Thai, Indian, Japanese and North African dishes.

Ginger contains a high level of enzymes that break down meat, similar to our own natural stomach enzymes. Ginger can be used as a meat tenderizer.

Crystallized ginger is a popular confectionary, and ginger beer [or ale] is a tasty carbonated beverage with stomach-soothing properties.

Ginger helps balance your diet. Too many cooling foods, such as vegetables, need a counter balance. Ginger is known in all forms of Eastern medicine as a warming herb.

Ginger for Colds & Flu:

In the wintertime, many people suffer form colds and flu. Chinese medicine refers to this form of sickness as “invading cold” or “invading damp” which means that the system has been assailed by the cold weather. Whether in the form of: influenza, chills, coughs, or bronchitis, this is a condition that lasts far too long for anyone. Herbal help can be found as close to you as your spice rack or local grocery store. Spices are thought of as warm to hot, and ginger is strong enough to repel the assailant as it’s an antioxidant.

Ginger Relieves Motion/Morning Sickness:

Whether a person is carsick, airsick, and seasick or has morning sickness, ginger is one of the most effective herbal remedies to get rid of that queasy feeling.

Other Known Uses:

If a person has exercised too much or suffers from arthritis or rheumatism, ginger has been known to ease inflammation of the joints and muscle tissue. Due to its tremendous circulation-increasing qualities, ginger is thought to improve the complexion. Ginger has reduced nervousness, eased tendonitis, and helped sore throats return to normal. Studies demonstrate that ginger can lower cholesterol levels by reducing cholesterol absorption in the blood and liver.

In the West African country of Senegal, women wore belts containing ginger roots to arouse their partner’s desire. “For centuries, ginger has been used in love rituals throughout Asia and the South Pacific. Originally introduced as an exotic condiment in Europe, ginger was soon used for both medicinal as well as amatory purposes. This ancient heritage is recognized in the extensive use of ginger in men’s colognes, though at the moment sweeter, less spicy formulas are being created for the scent-conscious man.” From the book 'Magical Aromatherapy' by Scott Cunningham.

Ginger Recipes:

Ginger Tea – Ideally, this should be made with a fresh root. Grate a small piece of ginger [about the size of a nickel] into a mug. Add the juice of a ½ lemon. Fill the mug with boiling water. Stir in a teaspoon of organic honey.

Ginger Bath – Bathing in fragrant ginger is a luxury as well as a recipe for getting better. Powdered ginger is the recommended form and it should be added slowly. Start with the addition of 1 tablespoon’s worth of ginger. If that isn’t enough, add another. Don’t add too much. You will feel your heart rate increase and you’ll begin to detoxify your symptoms soon after bathing in ginger. Drinking plenty of water is recommended.

Note: Consult your physician before trying any of these remedies. Ginger is not recommended for infants.

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