Zingiber officinaleDownload info sheet
Ginger is the 2023 ‘International Herb of the Year’!
There will not be many people who do not know Ginger; those knobbly roots on display at the supermarket or greengrocer, or the packet of ginger powder. This herb belongs to the Zingiberaceae family and originates from Asia where it has an ancient history; as both a medicine and a spice for cooking. Its use was spread via the Silk Road trading
routes and became an integral part of culinary and medicinal life through the Middle East and then westward from Greece to Europe. Ginger was mentioned in a Roman cook book, De Re Coquinaria, in the third century written by the Roman, Apicinus Caelius. It was the Spanish, who took Ginger to the Americas and in the West Indies, where it is now an important part of the economy, as it is in parts of Africa and Australia. Probably all of you know the wonders of Ginger for cooking. Who remembers Ginger gems, hot from the oven, or a crisp and crunchy Ginger nut? Did you make Ginger beer as a child? Ginger is one of the most widely known and used spices worldwide—even in cooking it can help improve your health.
Identification & Cultivation: Can we grow it? Yes, if you have a warm frost-free spot! Ginger is propagated vegetatively, this means you can get a piece Ginger root from the green grocer and try to grow it. It likes a good composty soil, either of a neutral to alkaline PH. If the soil isn’t kept moist enough, you won’t get plump juicy rhizomes. From the rhizome the foliage grows to about 1 metre high and is quite attractive. You could grow it as an indoor plant. The flower spikes blooms grow to about 30cms and from the bracts open creamy yellow flowers, which are often speckled. After about 10 months you can dig it up and use the new rhizomes for cooking.
Energetic Character: The character of Ginger is pungent, hot, and dry.
Constituents: Contains volatile oils (including gingerol and shogaol), resins, acrid resin, phenols, alkaloids, bisabolene, borneal, borneol, camphene, choline, cineole, citral, inositol, PABA, phellandrene, sesquiterpenes, zingerone, zingiberene and mucilage. Plus, vitamins A, B complex, and C. With minerals: calcium, phosphorus, iron, sodium, potassium and magnesium.
Therapeutic Actions: Anti–nausea, stimulant, circulatory stimulant, vasodilator, anti-spasmodic, anti- inflammatory, rubefacient (warms tissue externally) and diaphoretic; meaning it stimulates perspiration to increase elimination through the skin and can help reduce fevers. There is good scientific evidence to suggest that Ginger can help inhibit prostaglandins, which have an inflammatory effect on the body. It can also help to lower elevated cholesterol levels. Ginger also has another action; it is anti- platelet aggregating which means it helps stop blood platelets being ‘sticky’, to reduce risk of heart disease and stroke.
Caution: Of course, if you have a problem getting your blood to clot, e.g. haemophilia, or if you’re on blood thinning medication such as warfarin, it is best to avoid Ginger.
Medicinal Uses: It is the rhizome of Ginger that is used medicinally. Indications for use are poor circulation and cold extremities e.g. Raynaud’s disease. Fresh Ginger stimulates blood flow and may help with epilepsy, arteriosclerosis and Ménière’s disease, arthritis and rheumatism, chest complaints, coughs and colds. Ginger can help most digestive system problems, especially nausea and colic. It can stimulate digestion and aid assimilation so you get better nourishment from food. Use it for nausea, travel and morning sickness. It can assist lower blood pressure and help stop coughing.
Use for painful or irregular menstrual periods, but avoid it if you have a tendency to ‘flood’.
In pregnancy, use Ginger only in small quantities, as it is also a uterine stimulant.
Externally, Ginger can be used as a compress, or as a bath for feet, hands or the whole body, to help stimulate circulation or for aching joints.
Preparations and Use: Infusion; finely slice fresh Ginger, pour boiling water over it and cover for about 10 minutes. The cover will allow the herbs to infuse without the essential oils evaporating with the steam. Add some lemon or honey to taste for a wonderful warming drink or, eat some crystallised Ginger, drink some Ginger beer or Ginger wine! Useful if you have digestive problems after a meal. You can use powdered Ginger in boiling water to drink—not as nice as the fresh, as the valuable essential oils have gone. You can also use it as a ginger bath or compress.
Dosage: Fresh herb- up to 3 grams daily; Dried ginger - up to 1 gram per day; Tincture up to 2mls daily “…it is of an heating and digesting qualitie, and it is profitable for the stomacke.” 1597 - John Gerard (1545-1612), English Herbalist.
Culinary uses: Such a useful herb to add a zing to your meals—a staple ingredient in many cuisines around the world. Remember how delicious ginger crunch is?
“Nose, nose, jolly red nose, Who gave thee this jolly red nose? Nutmegs and ginger, cinnamon and cloves, And they gave me this jolly red nose.” – Anonymous-quoted in the book ‘The Knight of the Burning Pestle’ by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher (1609) but is believed to originate from an earlier rhyme.
History & Mystery: Ginger originates from Asia, shringara/ sringavera are the Sanskrit names. When taken to Greece, it was called zingiberis; and from the 1st century AD, it, was described in writings. The Old English name for ginger was gingifere, which originates from the French gingembre and the Medieval Latin name which is ginginer. It is interesting to track the development of words as they ‘cross borders’.
Because Ginger has spread to many parts of the world, there have been many names given to it, each language has its own name, often derived from the original, you can see this from the following names. Some of these include: African ginger, black ginger, sunthi (another Sanskrit name for the dry form), East Indian pepper, Jamaica pepper, ingwer (German), zenzero (Italian) jengibre, myoga, zangvil (herbrew), gingembre (French), Gengibre (Spanish) dinnsear (Gaelic), gingsear (Irish) engifer (Iceland), shouga or shoga (Japanese), imbir (Polish), chiang-t’, gan jiang (Chinese), luya (Philippines), and many more.
These are the attributes which have been given to Ginger: Ruling planet – Mars; Element – Fire; Gender – Ginger is considered to be masculine energy; Powers – Love, money, success and power!
“And I had but one penny in the world, thou should’st have it to buy ginger-bread.” William Shakespeare (1564-1616), from “Love’s Labours Lost.” This Shakespeare ginger bread quote is referring to crystallised Ginger; this is what it was called up until the 16th century. It was brought to Europe by the Knights returning after ‘The Crusades,’ of course it was not a treat available to ‘the common people’ for centuries. It became a valued condiment and medicine quite rapidly, and remains so.
Ginger biscuits, made into distinctive shapes, such as men and hearts have endured. The ‘Gingerbread cottage/house’ was created as at treat for children with the publishing of the ‘Tale of Hansel and Gretel,’ written by the Brothers Grimm (and some of their tales are indeed grim!)
“I myself have accomplished nothing of excellence except a remarkable and, to some of my friends, unaccountable expertness in hitting empty ginger ale bottles with small rocks at a distance of thirty paces.” – James Grover Thurber 1894-1961 from the preface of ‘My Life and Hard Times,’ 1933
There’s a lot of folk lore surrounding this herb; it is a wonderful food and medicine. Use it and enjoy it…
Prepared for the Herb Federation of New Zealand’s Herb Awareness Month 2023.
Advisory Note: This text is given as a general guidance. If any adverse reactions occur or symptoms persist, please contact a qualified medical herbalist or medical doctor immediately.