Dec
13

POWER OF SPICE: GINGER

by Nina Vachkova

A warming cup of spicy ginger tea is a wonderful, comforting beverage for cold winter days when you don’t feel your best, whether you are starting to feel something scratchy in your throat, or have an upset stomach. We are usually advised to add ginger to our foods and drinks to boost our energy, metabolism, or to treat a wide range of symptoms ranging from sore throat to digestive issues. Is ginger really that powerful and versatile? Let’s find out! Zingiber officinale is a perennial plant with pale pink or yellow flowers. The origin of this plant is not really clear; some say it was first grown in China, others claim it comes from India. What matters more than it’s origin is the fact that ginger has been used in both China and India for over three thousand years for it’s medicinal properties. Similar to turmeric, ginger root is actually a rhizome of the Zingiber plant, and it is widely available all over the world as a fresh root, as a dried powdered, and also as an essential oil. It is used all over the world as a herbal remedy and also as a culinary ingredient. Let’s examine the health benefits first, before running to the kitchen.

GINGER TO THE RESCUE!

Ginger root is very aromatic and spicy and it contains specific compounds with anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antioxidant, and soothing properties. Some of these compounds are called gingerols, and these are beneficial for the reduction of muscle pain, the relief of joint pain and stiffness in osteoarthritis patients, and also help with menstrual cramps and headaches. Gingerols are chemically similar to capsaicins found in chilli peppers and they are responsible for the spicy flavor. During cooking, gingerol converts to zingeron, an aromatic compound that is further used by the food industry and in cosmetics (for example in perfumes). Other ginger compounds like zingiberen and bisabolen add that typical zing! quality to ginger-flavored foods and beverages.

Zingerones, gingerols, and shogaols in ginger are also powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that help with the symptoms of asthma. They work as bronchodilators, agents that help your lung cells to relax and prevent hyperventilation. Unlike prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that are usually used to treat asthma, ginger has no dangerous side effects. Excessive amounts of ginger may cause acute gastrointestinal issues, but anything under 3 tablespoons of raw ginger or 6-8 tablespoons of ginger powder a day is considered generally safe, even for pregnant and nursing women. Ginger is able to soothe nausea, stomach upset, and even morning sickness in pregnant women. Many people find that ginger is the most effective nausea treatment – you only need a small piece of fresh ginger, finely grated, and ingested – with very fast effects. Ginger in the stomach prevents vomiting, flatulence, and spasms by soothing the gut. Some studies suggests that daily ginger intake is very helpful for nausea and motion sickness during chemotherapy. Ginger also has a positive effect on insulin release and insulin sensitivity, protects the kidneys, liver and central nervous system, and makes a great herbal medication for diabetics.

The warming compounds in ginger increase thermogenesis in the body (similar to chilli peppers, turmeric, and cayenne pepper), which basically means your body starts burning stored body fat for energy and creates heat in the process, which obviously has a positive impact on fat loss. The thermogenic compounds in ginger can boost your overall metabolism by up to 5% and even increase fat burning (using fat for energy in everyday tasks) by up to 16%. When combined with sensible diet and a good exercise plan, ginger might be the ideal natural, real food based fat loss supplement with no negative side effects. Thanks to its thermogenic effects, ginger also helps to promote satiety and to prevent overeating, so it works as a natural stop sign for binge eaters or emotional eaters. Food is a wonderful source of comfort, but it is also our primary source of medicine. Ginger adds a wonderful kick of flavor to your dish and helps with your digestive issues at the same time, so it is a win-win situation for the root! 🙂 Ginger is still being studied in a number of trials to support the anecdotal evidence that its antiviral, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties help with all kinds of diseases, including prostate cancer, improving cognitive function, blood glucose, and cholesterol related issues that lead to heart disease and stroke.  

COOKING WITH GINGER

Ginger is very versatile in the kitchen! Because it has so many benefits and virtually no side effects, feel free to add it to your foods whenever the mood strikes. I prefer fresh ginger root as often as possible, but I always keep a bag of powdered ginger in my pantry, just for the sake of convenience. And because I am big on essential oils, I obviously have ginger oil in my collection. Fresh ginger root can last a few weeks in the fridge and several months in the freezer. You can also pickle it or dehydrate it for later use. Fresh ginger contains higher levels of anti-inflammatory gingerol, while powdered has a longer shelf life. There are some important minerals present in ginger: one ounce of fresh root contains 116 mg of potassium, 12 mg of magnesium, and 0.1 mg of copper and manganese. There is also 1.4 mg of Vitamin C in an ounce of ginger (yet another reason to combine ginger with molasses to improve iron uptake!).

The easiest thing you can make in your kitchen is ginger root tea. Use one teaspoon of chopped fresh (peeled) ginger in one cup of hot water, simmer it for five minutes, add optional lemon or honey (I also love fresh mint leaves in my tea), and enjoy. You can dilute it if the flavor is too strong for you. Another option that has a long tradition in ancient medicine is golden milk or turmeric milk. We already mentioned this recipe before on a few occasions, and you can get the whole recipe here. It is basically a magical healing beverage made with several powerful ingredients you most likely already have in your pantry. It boosts your immunity and it is a perfect sleep remedy after busy, hectic days when you need to rest and relax your mind and your body. Wellness Mama has also shared a recipe on homemade ginger ale, and you can also add ginger to your kombucha during the process of carbonation!

I always add a piece of whole ginger root to my pot when making bone broth to further enhance the gut healing properties of the broth, but powder works just as well. As a spice, ginger is often used in Asian dishes. I like to make this soup, and I also like to add ginger to my vegetable puree (carrots, sweet potatoes, or butternut squash).  Ginger is a very popular ingredient for baking (gingerbread, right?), you might want to try these cookies. Ginger pairs very well with garlic and this combination is perfect in a salad dressing or a marinade like this one. The options are almost endless, so don’t be afraid to experiment and discover new combinations and flavors!

GINGER REMEDIES

Because of it’s soothing properties for both the respiratory and digestive systems, adding ginger to homemade remedies, tinctures, and syrups is a wonderful idea. If you don’t feel like chewing on a piece of fresh ginger, and drinking strong ginger tea is not really your thing, you can always take a look at some of these recipes and make your own digestive remedy or cough drops. You can add a few drops of ginger essential oil or a few tablespoons of ginger powder to your hot bath tub to invigorate sore muscles; Mickey from our favorite autoimmune resource use ginger as a part of her pain management regiment. As she mentions in her post, ginger should be used with caution if you suffer with any type of bleeding disorder (and take any type of blood thinning medication, including aspirin) as it has a blood thinning effect.

Pregnant women and people with gallstones should always discuss ginger use with their doctors and it is generally not recommended for children under the age of two to use larger amounts of ginger (in a meal is fine, but avoid medicinal doses). Ginger essential oil used in a diffuser or in a room spray helps with nausea, travel sickness, and nervousness, and when used topically it stimulates blood flow, balance, and tones the skin and can also improve cellulite. Read more about the benefits and uses of ginger, try adding it to your meals, make a big mug of ginger tea, and let nature’s medicine soothe your upset stomach! You don’t need to stock up on medications during colder months; you can enjoy winter without a cold, cough, or sore throat with one simple ingredient – ginger root!

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