How does it feel?
Start by dipping your finger into some ground ginger spice and tasting a little. The sharp ‘acrid’ impact is almost immediate (dried ginger was the hottest spice around the world until chilli peppers were exported from America). What you feel is actually some of ginger’s constituents (gingerols and shagaols) stimulating receptors on the pain fibres in the lining of your mouth. The heat comes from the reflex increase in blood flow that results from the stimulation. This increased circulation is both at the site of the stimulation and also throughout the body, so that your core body temperature will rise quite quickly if you take enough of the spice. This is the key benefit of ginger.
Now move onto tasting the fresh ginger root that you can now buy in the vegetable section of most supermarkets. You will notice this is a much more elaborate spectrum of tastes. The acrid spiciness is still at the fore but now accompanied by a rich range of aromatic flavours. It is these which make fresh ginger almost a separate remedy in traditional Asian medicine.
All around the world the actions of traditional medicines were understood by their immediate sensory impacts. Click on each of (fresh) ginger’s key qualities below to learn more:
What can I use it for?
- Ginger is firstly stimulating and warming and is the prime choice for any symptom that is made worse by cold and damp or improved by heat (hot drink, hot bath, hot pack). It partners particularly well with cinnamon in these applications.
- It is especially helpful for colds, with congested airways, and is an effective constituent of cough mixtures where the cough brings up phlegm or mucus.
- It is most widely used for upset, weak or deficient digestion, particularly in countering nausea and vomiting (for example in motion sickness, in pregnancy and after some medical procedures).
- Ginger’s impact on digestion extends to a wider range of conditions where there is poor performance; congestive indigestion, colic, bloating and in general when recovering from illness, trauma or other debilitating situations.
- Its heat will relieve muscular aches, pains and spasms throughout the body including the female reproductive system. It encourages a healthy inflammation response and a strong and supportive blood supply, helping to clear congestion and reduce fluid retention in affected areas. When used externally in the form of an oil or ointment, it will also reduce inflammation and pain.
It is always important to check whether ginger suits you before using it widely. Although it is usually very acceptable, it does not suit everyone and if it does not feel comfortable it is best to hold back on it, rather than persist.
Into the heart of ginger
Ginger is fantastically warming and pungent. This is the key to its action and formidable reputation. Its constituents shogaols and gingerols stimulate the circulation, particularly the peripheral arterial circulation, making it a primary choice for improving all forms of circulatory inefficiencies and easing congestion throughout the body. It can be thought of as an inspired detox agent, bringing more healing blood into the tissues.
It provides warming relief from inflamed and painful musculoskeletal conditions. Ginger will improve peripheral circulation during a fever, encouraging diaphoresis and an increased level of perspiration.
Its heating properties translate into other benefits. In the airways the result is increased blood supply to the mucosa and loosening of mucus congestion. In the digestive system there is also increased mucosal blood supply that leads to improved digestive secretions; with the volatile oil content there is added antispasmodic activity that helps reduce colic as well as the spasm that generates nausea and vomiting.
In ancient China where the use of ginger originated, there were three versions: sheng jiang, fresh raw rhizome; gan jiang, dried raw rhizome; and pao jiang, dried, quick-fried rhizome. All three were considered warming remedies with particular affinity for the bowel and lungs, although their activity in these regions varied. Sheng jiang was considered the most “dispersing” of the three, meaning it had a broad spectrum of influence but short-lived effects. It was used in instances of toxicity and food poisoning and to induce diaphoresis (sweating) in fevers. Gan jiang, in comparison, had a less intense effect but longer lasting benefits. It was better matched with patterns of lack of muscle tone, congestion, or debility, which might have manifested as cold limbs, pale complexion, or undigested food in the stool. Pao jiang was used in much the same way as gan jiang, although it was considered to be a stronger remedy and was also applied to stop bleeding. Its action was the least dispersing of the three, meaning it did more to conserve energy and was the specific choice for conditions such as recurrent nosebleeds, spitting of blood and mid-cycle uterine bleeding.
The Sanskrit name for ginger vishwabhesaja, translates as panacea, a universal medicine benefiting everybody and all diseases. As in Chinese medicine, ayurvedic tradition also applied the rhizome in a variety of forms (fresh, dried, peeled, and unpeeled). Again, it was used consistently for digestive complaints, including nausea, diarrhoea, flatulence, dyspepsia (indigestion), and gastrointestinal spasm. It was also valued for chronic rheumatic complaints, venomous bites and for colds and flu. European and early American practitioners adapted both Asian traditions in their use of ginger. They recognised its benefits for digestion and used it as an appetite stimulant and carminative (to reduce bowel gas and cramp). They specifically recommended its use in cases of spasm, pain and flatulence or for apparent sluggish digestion or bowels. General debility, nervous fatigue with exhaustion and inadequate circulation were other Western uses. For colds and flu, ginger was used to increase the flow of mucus and as a diaphoretic, to increase sweating in fevers. Early American physicians also favoured ginger as a remedy for menstrual cramps.
What practitioners say
Ginger may be usefully applied for a range of digestive, bowel and respiratory conditions. The modern practitioner can be guided by traditional wisdom and use ginger particularly when symptoms are made worse by cold and damp conditions and seem to be relieved by heat and dryness.
- Circulation: Ginger clears cold. The fresh plant increases peripheral circulation and causes vasodilation and sweating, traditionally seen to clear toxins (Ayurvedic ama) from the blood. Fresh ginger acts on the small blood vessels, causing vasodilation and sweating. Dry ginger is stronger and more thermogenic. Fresh ginger is more peripherally active while dry ginger is more centrally stimulating and warming to the constitution.
- Digestion: Ginger will warm and stimulate the digestive system, increasing agni (Ayurvedic ‘digestive fire). It is useful in nausea (morning, post-operative and travel sickness), flatulence and griping. Dry ginger, being hotter, is more of a stimulant and used for clearing the symptoms of congestive digestion. Fresh ginger is better for calming an upset or nervous digestion and will act as a laxative in constipation linked to irritable bowel. Ginger’s ability to clear congestion and act as a stimulant make it a perfect choice for a weak, slow or inefficient digestion.
- Metabolic and inflammatory: Ginger is a good component in formulations and regimes to manage the complications of weight gain, including metabolic syndrome and pre-diabetic states.
- Musculoskeletal: Ginger is included in manytraditional Ayurvedic formulas for joint health, such as Triphala guggul and Yograj guggul. Initially it warms and stimulates, but in the long term it encourages a healthy inflammation response as well as supporting blood supply helping to clear congestion and reduce fluid retention in affected areas.
- Respiratory: Ginger clears phlegm and congestion in coughs and colds affecting the lungs and respiratory system.
- Reproductive system: Ginger can help relieve menstrual cramps, particularly in the form of fresh ginger tea. It is most applicable to symptoms that are relieved by hot water bottles. Ginger has a warming, anti-inflammatory action on the female reproductive system and a long-term nourishing effect as a whole. It can increase milk production in lactating mothers.
Did you know?
Ginger is probably the most valuable natural commodity in human history. The dried rhizome, carried long distances from Asia to Europe, was at one time worth more than its weight in gold. So in demand was ginger that it was made extinct in the wild 2,000 years ago. Ever since, it has lost its capacity to seed itself and is grown only from rootstock. This may be the first known case of humans causing a plant extinction!
Forgive Me For I Have Sinned tea
This help-you-feel-good tea is best to sip slowly after a night of indulgence. It aids digestion, stimulates sluggish circulation and the fresh ginger moves your energy upwards and outwards waking up your whole system. Its sweet-spicy nature diffuses any clouds obscuring your view. Enjoy.
- Fresh peppermint leaves 1 handful (or 1 tbsp dry)
- Fresh ginger root 3-5 slices
- Fresh rosemary 2 sprigs (or 1 tsp dry)
- Turmeric root powder ¼ tsp (or a sprinkle) per cup
- Angostura bitters a dash per cup
- Honey 1 tsp per cup
Perfect for 2-3 cups
- Put the mint, ginger and rosemary in a pot.
- Add 500ml/18fl oz freshly boiled filtered water.
- Leave to steep for 10–15 minutes, then strain.
- Add the turmeric, bitters and honey.
- Breathe in the aromas while you drink this, they will help you feel better.
Incredible Immunity tea
This ‘Incredible Immunity’ tea recipe is perfect when you spot the first sign of a cold. This tasty blend helps your immune system fight bacteria and viruses which are most active at lower body temperatures.
- Yarrow top 3g
- Peppermint leaf 3g
- Elderflower 3g
- Tulsi leaf 3g
- Fresh ginger root 3g, about 11/2cm/5/8in
This will serve 2–3 cups of flu-free freedom.
- Put all of the ingredients in a pot.
- Add 500ml/18fl oz freshly boiled filtered water.
- Leave to steep for 5–10 minutes, then strain.
- Enjoy while it’s piping hot.
Winter Tonic Elixir
This is a fun and easy-to-make ‘winter tonic elixir’ with a mix of herbs that raise your energy and warm you to the core.
- Brandy 700ml/25fl oz
- Amaretto 300ml/10fl oz
- Ginseng root 20g/3/4oz
- Astragalus 10g/1/3oz
- Cinnamon bark 10g (about 2 quills)
- Ashwagandha 5g
- Ginger root powder 5g
- Rosemary 2 sprigs
- Orange peel 5g
This makes 1 litre/35fl oz of tasty tincture.
- Blend the liquids and soak the herbs in it for 1 month and then strain. Bottle half for you and half for a friend.
- Sip on cold winter nights to raise your spirits and keep you strong.
Ginger flannel soak
Here is a real treat to get you lumbered up and relaxed: a calming flannel soak with ginger. If you have any pain on your body you can make a flannel soak with this powerful ginger tea recipe. We use this flannel soak at the first sign of a sore throat and apply to the chest and throat until the skin is reddened, or use it to soothe painful joints or muscles. A flannel soak is also useful for reducing period pain – just place the hot ginger-tea soaked flannel over the painful area.
- Fresh ginger root 5g, about 2.5cm/1 in This will serve 1 cup of warming ginger tea.
- Scrub the ginger or lightly peel – Top tip: If you choose to peel ginger, use a teaspoon to scrape the skin away
- Slice the ginger into fine slivers and put in a pot.
- Add 250ml (9fl oz) of freshly boiledfiltered water. Leave to steep for 10–15 minutes.
- You can then strain it, or you can leave the ginger in. If you want to make the tea stronger, you can simmer the ginger in a pan with the lid on for a few minutes.
- Now soak a flannel in the hot infusion, ring out any excess fluids and apply to the painful area.
These recipes are from Cleanse, Nurture, Restore by Sebastian Pole
Ginger has been safely used as a food for many centuries, with few adverse reports in daily cuisine, clinical practice or in clinical trials. Excessive doses may cause symptoms of indigestion, but most effects are likely to be transient exacerbations of gastric upset.
Based on clinical studies and centuries of safe use as a food by pregnant women, ginger appears to be safe for use during pregnancy when taken in recommended dosages. Similarly, ginger seems to be compatible with breast feeding.
Traditional Ayurvedic characteristics are
- Rasa (taste) Pungent, sweet.
- Virya (action) Heating (fresh is warm and dry is hot).
- Vipaka (post-digestive effect) Sweet.
- Guna (quality) Fresh – unctuous and heavy; dry – dry, light and penetrating.
- Dosha effect: strengthens pitta, and reduces excessive vata and kapha
- Dhatu (tissue) All tissues.
- Srotas (channels) Digestive, respiratory, circulatory.
A review of six double-blind, randomized controlled trials with a total of 675 participants has confirmed that ginger is effective in relieving the severity of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. The review also confirmed the absence of significant side effects or adverse effects on pregnancy outcomes. There are a number of earlier reviews demonstrating benefits for reducing nausea after operations, and in motion sickness. It also activates digestive enzymes to increase digestive performance.
Both the heat-generating constituents and the volatile oils in ginger are believed to explain why so many people with arthritis experience reductions in their pain levels and improvements in their mobility when they consume ginger regularly. It shows promise in reducing arthritic pain. One study showed ginger was effective in reducing pain and swelling in arthritis, with no adverse effects during the period of ginger consumption which ranged from 3 months to 2.5 years. It has been shown to reduce pain in excess exercise, and its effects in relieving spasm extend to benefits for painful periods.
It has been shown to reduce many markers of inflammatory activity, especially those associated with metabolic syndrome, obesity and prediabetic conditions. There is evidence that these effects, possibly mediated by reducing the inflammatory activity of fat cells, can translate into benefits for the control of obesity.
It may protect against the damage of ionising radiation. When used externally in the form of an oil or ointment, ginger reduces inflammation and pain.
To see the references used in this summary check our downloadable Expert Herbal Reality Resource pdf
0.75-3g (dried root); to reduce nausea and vomiting up to 6g, (or up to 3g in pregnancy). Multiply these quantities by 2-3 times for fresh root
- Acrid principles gingerols (notably (6)-gingerol) and shogaols (notable (6)-shogaol) – the gingerols decompose into the more acrid and powerful shogaols on drying and storage
- Essential oil (1-3%) including monoterpenes citral a and citral b (geranial and neral)
- Sesquiterpenes (making up 30-70% of total essential oil) including beta-sesquiphellandrene and alpha-zingiberene (both mainly in the fresh root), beta-bisabolene, and ar-curcumene.