Ginger – Oh What a Spice!

Members article

By Dr Ruth Cilento MB BS DBM DAc FACNEM © Dementia Care International

A Long History

During spring in the Yandina district of Queensland, Australia, you may catch the delightful aroma of the ginger plants in flower as you drive through the fields of greenery and delicate white blossoms. It is a sign of what is developing under the rich chocolate-coloured soil of the area – the roots which will be harvested when the tops of the plants dry off.

The history of ginger-growing in Australia is relatively young because the industry has only become viable as a farming crop in the last fifty years. However, the many uses of the valuable ginger root may have altered the course of history.

Zingiber officinale, a tropical herb originally from South East Asia, was so prized for its spicy taste and medicinal properties that European explorers were sent out to find a new and faster sea route to Cathay (China), where it had been grown and traded for a thousand years. Ginger was mentioned in ancient times in Chinese literature by Confucius who used it as an aid to digestion and an antidote for poisons. The early Greeks used ginger root as an anti-nausea for seasickness and to ease allergies. Then the Romans spread its use through their Empire from Scotland to the Middle East. It is cited in the Koran as one of the drinks for the righteous, being a mental stimulant for the elderly, a remedy against plague, a tonic against depression and a great healer of infections.

Early in the sixteenth century, the Spanish took the ginger root to Mexico and respected it for its strength-giving and aphrodisiac qualities. It was this latter supposed use that caused Cromwell’s puritan government to briefly ban it in England. Elizabeth the First made ginger popular in its crystalline state (preserved with sugar) as a favourite sweet gift and a natural antacid for which it is still prized.

What can Ginger Do?

Ginger has all the properties for which it has been prized and probably many more because it contains many health-giving substances. It is a powerful antioxidant and free radical quencher, and contains more good protein than green beans and as much Vitamin A and Calcium as broccoli. If it is grown in good soil, it also holds iron, potassium, phosphorus and Vitamin B2.

Here are some of the proven medicinal benefits of ginger:

  • It can kill the typhoid germ, salmonella and the cancer-causing fungus, aflatoxin, in nuts and other foods.
  • It protects fats from being broken down to bad forms by free radicals and so helps us resist cancer and the ageing process.
  • It lowers high cholesterol and helps in reducing high blood pressure.
  • It can make the heart muscle contract more strongly and prevents clots by thinning the blood.
  • When paper-thin slices of the fresh root are sucked or infused in hot water as a tea to gargle, it can relieve a sore throat, hoarseness, pain and inflammation of larynx, and the common cold. It may also sweeten a ‘sick’ breath.
Some Ginger Tips

Simmering or slow cooking ginger with sugar reduces the hot ‘bite’ of ginger when it is added as a spice in cooking. It can be used as a tea, a juice, put in salad dressing or added to water as a gentle skin tonic.

Ginger is available in many forms including fresh root raw, cooked, powdered, preserved dried, made into a syrup or pressed into a tablet.

One tablet or ½ a teaspoon of powdered ginger added to a tea before travelling can prevent nausea, motion sickness and vertigo.

Ginger has long been used by women to ease monthly discomforts and, in bath water, to ease pain and congestion.

A Ginger Tonic to Spice Up your Day!

I often use this great tonic to start the day. It can be used instead of tea because it is healthy for the digestion and refreshing and easy to make.

All you do is peel part of the knob of the root and then cut a few slices very thinly or grate them finely into a large cup. Add pure boiling water and a slice or two of lemon or a strip of dried mandarin skin and allow it to stand and steep for a few minutes. When at drinking temperature, sweeten to taste with a teaspoon of honey or a few drops of stevia extract (a sweet natural herb).