Ginger is an herbaceous tropical perennial and grows from aromatic, tuberous rhizome which is knotty and branched.  This spice is either white or buff-colored depending on the strain of the plant.  The flowers of the ginger plant are cone-like spikes which are about 3 inches long and are on 6-12 inch stalks.  The origin of ginger is unknown, but it is probably native to southern China and India. 

History of Ginger

Greek bakers were known to use ginger imported from the Orient some 4,400 years ago.  They used the spice to make gingerbread.  As early as the 16th Century, the Spanish were cultivating ginger, and the conquistadors brought it to the New World via Jamaica.  Ginger became so popular in Europe that in 1884 Great Britain alone imported over 5 million pounds of ginger root.  The root is highly used either fresh or dried in Japan, China, Southeast Asia, East India, North Africa and the Caribbean. 

Ginger Health Benefits

Chinese cooks do not often stir fry their vegetables without first browning a piece of ginger root.  A bit spicy to the tongue, ginger is also very soothing to the digestive system.  Those who enjoy using this root claim it tastes as if it is half citrus and half spice.  Ginger can be added to beverages, fruit salads, poultry, fish, meats, preserves, sweet potatoes, carrots, winter squash, pumpkin, beets, rhubarb and peaches.  It can also be combined with garlic and onions.  Ginger which is ground can be used in sweet puddings, quick breads, muffins, cakes and cookies.

Ginger is also very popular as a medicinal plant.  It is a mild stimulant and promotes healthy circulation.  There is a growing amount of evidence which suggests ginger is useful as a treatment for a number of different types of nausea, including motion sickness, the morning sickness experienced during pregnancy, and after anesthesia has been used during surgeries or other medical procedures.  Ginger is probably best known for its use in motion sickness, including sea sickness. 

This root can also be used as a digestive aid to treat dyspepsia.  It is often described as a stimulating carminative, as it also tones the gastrointestinal system.   It can act as an anti-inflammatory agent in the treatment of some types of arthritis, muscle aches or myalgias.  As the case with many other spices, ginger has traditionally been used to help the digestive process by those who believe it increases gastric acid secretion as well as increases salivary actions.

Historically it has been thought that spices tend to irritate gastric ulcers.  However, recent studies with animals have shown that ginger has the potential to be a gastro-protective compound.  Several studies have suggested that ginger increases gastric pH and decreases gastric secretions.  Additional studies have shown that dried ginger which was added to the daily diet resulted in increased digestive enzyme action.  Other research has shown that acetone extract of ginger resulted in increased bile secretion.  These studies seem to support the logic behind the historical use of ginger as an aid in digesting fatty meals.

There is also some evidence that ginger may be useful in managing elevated cholesterol levels in some patients.  A cholesterol study using an oral administration of ginger resulted in lowered serum and hepatic cholesterol levels, and also saw an increase in fecal cholesterol excretion.

Ginger has been historically used as an anti-inflammatory in many Asian countries.  In recent studies in which patients with myalgia or arthritic conditions were present, a decrease in pain and swelling was noted in the majority of the individuals. Relief normally occurred after daily consumption of ginger for 1 to 3 months and remained as long as the ginger was being routinely consumed.  When this therapy was discontinued, the symptoms returned within a few weeks. 

There is no known reason for the effects of ginger as an anti-inflammatory, but it could be due in part to its influence on eicasonoid production as well as other inflammatory mediators.  One recent study suggests that ginger may have anti-nausea properties because of its ability to decrease tachygastric activity and prevent the elevation of plasma vasopressin which is induced by circular vection.

Other Benefits

Some of the other health benefits of ginger include:

  • Circulation – Stimulates the circulatory system due to its influence on the cardiovascular system.
  • Migraines – Ginger is thought to have anti-emetic actions, thus it has been used traditionally to treat headaches.  When ginger was used at the first sign of a migraine aura, the migraine was halted within 30 minutes.  It is thought consuming ginger daily can also help prevent the onset of migraines.
  • Anti-microbial actions – Certain elements of ginger seem to exert anti-microbial actions against specific pathogens, including salmonella typhi, vibrio cholera and trocp[jutpm violaceum in vitro. 

The therapeutic compounds in ginger are:

  • Volatile oils – These are a complex mixture of hydrocarbons which include beta-bisabolene, zin giberene, zingiberol, and various alcohols and aldehydes.
  • Oleoresin – These compounds are pungent principles known as gingerols, shogaols and zingerone.
  • Lipids – Free fatty acids, triglycerides, lecithins and phosphatide acids.
  • Carbohydrates – Ginger is up to 50% starch.
  • Miscellaneous compounds – The root contains various amino acids, vitamins and proteins.

A cup of warm ginger tea is very invigorating on a cold fall or winter day and can be made very easily.  Take a pint of boiling water and pour over 1 ounce of ginger rhizome and steep for 5 to 20 minutes.  Drink one or two cups daily for maximum health benefits.

Adverse Effects

Adverse effects of ginger are very rare.  Some of the side effects appear to be dyspepsia and gastric burning, although this may only occur when ginger is used in un-encapsulated form.  Daily doses of less than 1 gram do not appear to be associated with known adverse effects.



  1. Bone, K. A Clinical Guide to Blending Liquid Herbs: Herbal Formulations for the Individual Patient, Churchill Livingstone (2003)
  2. Braun, L. & Cohen, M. Herbs & Natural Supplements: An evidence-based guide, Elsevier (2005)
  3. Duke, J. The Green Pharmacy: Herbal remedies for common diseases and conditions from the world's foremost authority on healing herbs, Rodale Limited (2003)
  4. Kowalchik, C. & Hylton, W. Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, Schwartz Books (1987)

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