More than just candy
In ancient times herbs and spices were used to preserve foods. Their
effectiveness in food preservation was the result of their potent
antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
was one of the first Oriental spices to reach Europe. While ginger is
indigenous to Southeast Asia, it is now widely cultivated in China,
India, the United States, Australia, and the West Indies.
Ginger is a perennial tropical plant with a thick tuberous rhizome. The
fleshy rhizomes of ginger are harvested when the plant is about one
year old and sundried for about a week. Typically the ginger sold in a
store is candied or crystallized. Fresh ginger rhizomes are boiled in a
sugar solution, then sliced and sprinkled with granulated sugar.
Ginger has a long history of use as a flavoring agent. It is frequently
used in Indian and Chinese cuisine. Ginger-bread and ginger beer are
examples of popular Western foods of yesteryear that utilized ginger.
Ginger is a popular seasoning because of its sweet aromatic odor and
pungent taste. Ginger can be used in entrées, breads, fruit desserts,
cake, pies, puddings, and preserves. It contributes a unique freshness
to food. It has a tendency to round out some flavors while accenting
A Travel Aid
Because of its antiemetic qualities ginger has proved to be a valuable
aid in treating nausea and preventing the vomiting associated with
motion sickness. A study with college students who were highly
susceptible to motion sickness found that about one gram of powdered
ginger was very effective in reducing the symptoms of motion sickness.
Typically ginger should be consumed about 30 minutes before travel.
Recently, when my family took a boat cruise to Alaska, the captain
offered everyone on board either pieces of ginger or ginger cookies to
help prevent seasickness.
Ginger's activity is caused by its aromatic, volatile oil, which
produces its characteristic odor. Active compounds include the
terpenoids zingiberene and bisabolene and the aromatic gingerols. The
latest research revealed that about a half dozen compounds appear to be
important in providing the antiemetic activity of gingerroot. The
antiemetic mechanism of ginger appears to be the result of (not an
effect on) the central nervous system, but rather a gastrointestinal
Ginger has also been used in the treatment of vertigo, colic, lack of
appetite, vomiting associated with morning sickness in pregnancy, and
rheumatic complaints. Ginger is used as a digestive aid, since it
promotes the secretion of saliva and gastric juices and increases the
action of peristalsis in the intestines. In the past, ginger was used
to relieve flatulence and prevent belching. The oil in ginger contains
compounds that relieve coughing and are reported to have analgesic and
Lower Risk of Blood Clots and Cancer
Ginger's use may diminish the risk of blood clots forming and increase
bleeding time, since ginger extracts inhibit the clumping of human
platelets. This could be valuable for heart patients at high risk of
forming dangerous blood clots. The compounds in ginger responsible for
this activity are mainly two labdane diterpenoid compounds and to a
much lesser degree some six different gingerols. The powerful diterpene
inhibitors appear to be as active in inhibiting blood clots as the
sulfur compounds in onions. Preliminary data from research with rabbits
shows that ginger may also help to lower blood cholesterol levels.
The rhizome of ginger contains more than 20 phenolic compounds, known
as gingerols and diarylheptanoids. Some of these phenolic constituents
are potent antioxidants and possess antimutagenic activity and
pronounced anti-inflammatory activity. These compounds also inhibit
various cancers. The anticancer activity of ginger is due in large part
to the presence of the antioxidant curcumin, a substance also found in
the herb turmeric. Curcumin is reported to stimulate the activity of
glutathione-S-transferase, an enzyme that assists in the elimination of
cancer-causing substances from the body. The aromatic substances in
ginger exhibit a strong antioxidant activity similar to that of vitamin
A typical daily dose of ginger is two to four grams (one-half to one
teaspoon) of the rhizome or one-half to one gram three times a day. A
single dose of one to two grams of powdered rhizome is normally
effective as an anti-emetic. Modest amounts of ginger appear to be
safe, since no toxic or unpleasant side effects have been reported.
Excessive consumption may interfere with cardiac, antidiabetic, and
anticoagulant therapy. Persons with gallbladder disease should consult
a physician before they consume ginger.
Ginger, with its unique aromatic flavor, enjoys many culinary
applications. Its health-promoting properties surely elevate ginger to
being more than just a candy. Ginger is useful for treating an upset
stomach, preventing symptoms of nausea and motion sickness, and
increasing the action and tone of the bowel. Its antitumor properties
and ability to reduce the risk of blood clot formation makes it a
useful herb for lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Remember: Herbal products and dietary supplements can have
pharmacological effects, may produce adverse reactions in some people,
and could interact with over-the-counter and prescription medications
you may take. Discuss with your physician your decision to use any
herbal product. Anything mentioned in this article is not intended to
diagnose, prescribe, or treat any ailment.