Welcome to the second installment in our focus on food series! This time we'll be looking at zingiber officinale, or as it's more commonly known, Ginger.
I had a lot of fun writing this article; in my last semester of university I took a medicinal botany course, so I spent a lot of time researching and writing on various plant based remedies! It felt like I was back in school all over again, which was very comforting, as I definitely miss going back to school with everyone who headed off this week!
Back to the point. Ginger. First of all, what is it? If you're someone who's only had it in already prepared forms, here's a little about the plant itself. Ginger is technically a rhizome rather than a root, as is commonly believed. A rhizome is defined as "a somewhat elongated usually horizontal subterranean plant stem that is often thickened by deposits of reserve food material, produces shoots above and roots below, and it's distinguished from a true root in possessing buds, nodes, and usually scale-like leaves" (Merriam-Webster). People have been using the ginger rhizome for at least 4,700 years, but no one really knows where it came from, as it does not actually grow in the wild! Despite that, it's one of the most widely used dietary condiments. The largest producer of ginger is India, but it grows all over the world (no matter where it's grown, it's constituents are very similar, though it does seem that some of the ratios of it's various compounds differ with geography). When it's harvested depends on what it's going to be used for, as the concentration of essential oils contained in it increase with age. For example, if it is going to be used for the oil, it is usually not harvested until it has matured for at least 9 months. However, if it's going to be used fresh, or preserved, it can be harvested as early as 5 months. It belongs to the same family as cardamom and turmeric - both of which are purported to have health benefits as well.
And what's so great about this pungent oily resin found in ginger any way? The active compounds in ginger are called--fittingly--gingerols. There's a lot more than this in ginger; in fact, there are around 115 constituents, and 14 bioactive compounds within that. Not much is really known yet about the metabolism of ginger, or how exactly it's used by the body, but gingerols seem to have anti-oxidizing and anti-inflammatory powers. They do seem to accumulate in the GI (gastrointestinal) tract, which may be why it's so effective (as effective as B6) for nausea, acid reflux, etc.
On to the specifics. There are generally around 6-12 benefits that are listed for ginger, depending on how specific you want to get. We're going to look at 12, with just a very brief description of why. For more info, there's lots of reputable websites out there that go more in depth! To treat these conditions, there are lots of way that ginger can be administered - as raw ginger, as an essential oil, as a tea or powder, or preserved, pickled, or candied.
One of the most common uses for ginger, that you've probably heard of, is for indigestion and nausea. It is effective for this because it relaxes the smooth muscle in your stomach. It is also helpful in cases of stomach ulcers and acid reflux. Along those lines, ginger can also be great for helping with malabsorption in the colon, and ensuring that there is not a build up of toxins there (antioxidant!). In a similar way, ginger can help those with compromised immunity and respiratory function. Again, the gingerols serve as an antioxidant to break down accumulated toxins, and flush out the lymphatic system.
The fifth thing ginger helps prevent is stroke and heart disease. It has the ability to fight against blood clotting. It can also help to fight against both bacterial and fungal infections. There is even some literature that is starting to suggest that ginger can delay the growth of cancerous cells! In people with diabetes it can suppress sorbitol accumulation, making the symptoms of their diabetes less severe.
The tenth thing that ginger seems to eliminate, or lessen, is pain! This is not one that most people immediately think of as a health benefit of ginger, and it is less supported by science so far, but it seems that gingerols can attach to vanilloid receptors on sensory nerve endings and help manage pain levels. As it is also relieves inflammation, it can help control pain that way.
Eleven and twelve are cholesterol and arthritis. Again, since ginger is anti-inflammatory is helps with the swelling associated with arthritis, and it's ability to break down cholesterol molecules is being studied.
Sounds like a pretty amazing little rhizome, huh? Of course, there is always more research to be done, and though there is nothing to suggest that there are any detrimental side effects to ginger, we are always warned to use it in moderation. There also do not appear to be any contraindications for this particular remedy - even pregnant women are not warned against its use.
God has given us so many amazing, healing "super foods" and natural remedies, and I hope this series of blog posts will encourage you to give them a shot next time you are experiencing sickness, rather than immediately reaching for pharmacological cures.
As always, please feel free to comment below, and I hope this has been helpful!
Next up, Moringa!
Axe, Josh, and Eric Zielinski. “10 Medicinal Ginger Health Benefits.” Dr. Axe, 2017, draxe.com/10-medicinal-ginger-health-benefits/.
Bode, Ann M, and Zigang Dong. “Chapter 7 - The Amazing and Mighty Ginger.” Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects, edited by Iris F. F. Benzie and Sissi Wachtel-Galor, 2nd ed., CRC Press, 2011.
"Rhizome." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 7 Sept. 2017.
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