The World Health Organization just gave a big ‘thumbs up’ to ginger, citing its health benefits. In fact, WHO Scientist Norman Farnsworth called ginger “one of the three most thoroughly investigated plants in the history of the world.” (The other two are garlic and ginseng.)
Native of India, China and Java and also grown in the Philippines and Tahiti, ginger has been one of the most highly esteemed spices since ancient times. The part of Ginger used is the root itself and the essence from the roots obtained by steam distillation. Many people smelling Ginger pure essential oil for the first time are surprised, and even disappointed because it doesn’t smell like the dried or preserved ginger that they’re familiar with in cakes, etc. In fact, it smells almost identical to the ‘green’ or fresh root ginger.
Ginger has been used as a digestive stimulant for thousands of years. It normalizes function in the digestive tract, relieving both constipation and diarrhea. It helps friendly bacteria, such as lactobacillus, to grow – it actually multiplies five times faster in the presence of ginger. At the same time, ginger kills some of the bacteria that are sometimes responsible for food poisoning, including E coli and salmonella.
Ginger has long been an herbal remedy for coughs and asthma, related to allergy or inflammation. Externally, ginger is a rubefacient (warming to the skin), and has been credited in this connection with relieving headache and toothache.
For colds, flu, stomach cramps and diarrhea, the most effective use of ginger is an infusion (or tea) made from the fresh root. Cut very thin slivers from the ginger root, and simmer them for about ten minutes, using about six thin slices from a root of average thickness, to each cup of water. With a little honey this makes a very pleasant winter drink, which is used in traditional chinese medicine as a preventative against winter ailments. It quells nausea, and can be a great help with both travel sickness and the ‘morning sickness’ of pregnancy. The infusion, without honey, can be used as a gargle for sore throats. In massage blends, Ginger can be used for arthritis, rheumatism, muscular pain and fatigue.
Here’s a bit of world trivia – it’s been recorded that women in Senegal weave belts of pounded Ginger root to revive their husbands’ flagging sexual prowess. Ginger is also rumored to be used in powdered form in local rectal applications to persuade horses to keep their tails raised, a sign of strength and good breeding appreciated by the ‘discerning members of the equestrian fraternity.’ (more a sign of pain and suffering for those poor horses.)
Personally, I’ve been a huge fan of Ginger for a very long time and use it frequently. My family has since learned to also love and appreciate this wonder root. The creation of the soft drink Ginger ale sprang from a common folkloric usage of Ginger. There is also Ginger beer, Ginger brandy and candied Ginger. Being such a pleasant herb, with so many different applications, it is encouraging to have the added knowledge that in using Ginger, we’re enjoying some of the goodness of nature as a health aid.