Ginger – the omnipotent root

Ginger undoubtedly is a magic plant that possesses incredible healing and disease-fighting powers. Scientifically known as Zingiber officinalis in the family Zingiberaceae, native to southern China but is widely cultivated around the world. Closely related to the well-known species like turmeric and cardamom, ginger is highly valued as a medicinal plant for thousands of years both in India and China. The parts of the ginger that usually consumed are the modified roots known as rhizomes, which are the bulky roots that spread underground. Although with an odd look, ginger is a must-have in the kitchen and has been used as a spice or medicinal herb for a variety of culinary or remedy recipes.

Ginger is a herbaceous perennial but mostly grown as an annual that thrives in a warm and humid climate. It produces many fibrous roots, erect and aerial shoots called pseudostem with bamboo-like leaves. The edible rhizome is a subterranean stem, which is also used for vegetative propagation. Simply break the rhizome root into pieces with several growth buds on it and plant them in moist soil or potting compost, multiple “buddings” will sprout simultaneously. When the plant reaching the maturity stage, the inflorescences will arise directly from the rhizome on separate shoots. The flowers have pale yellow petals embellished with purple edges, which are also used as herb ingredients in Asian cuisine for its mild fragrance. There are several types of ginger including sparse seedling type, dense seedling type, edible medicinal type, edible processed type, and ornamental type. The common ginger available at the market is an edible medicinal type and edible processed type that have lower fiber content in the rhizome. Ornamental gingers are popular in tropical and subtropical areas. They are typically low-maintenance with spectacular, attractive foliage and long-lasting, brightly colored blooms that make great cut flowers.

Ginger has been a primary folk medicine for the reproductive, respiratory, and digestive systems. It is a unique spice, the pungent taste gets stronger with age. Fresh ginger is more commonly used in cooking, while aged one has better medicinal values. It’s soft and juicy at the young stage and the flavor at its mildest and then becomes more solid and denser that accumulates a stronger flavor as the plant reaching the maturity stage. Common recipes for young ginger are often pickled or caramelized to preserve as a condiment or for use in confectionery. The delicious taste makes it a highly appreciated ingredient that blends well in a wide range of dishes, always a highlight for plates of meat and seafood. Besides, ginger is also made into wine, ale, and ginger beer. However, some people might not tolerate well with the strong pungent taste of ginger. Therefore, consider individually adaptable when it comes to anything involved with ginger.

Ginger is not just an edible root but also an excellent medicinal plant. The major pungent compounds in the rhizomes of fresh and dried ginger are gingerols and shogaols. Besides, ginger is rich in volatile oils, fixed oil, resins, starch, protein, and minerals in which it is known as the best-infused part of the plant. Grated ginger makes a delicious tea with lemon and honey. Meanwhile, fresh ginger juice helps lower blood sugar levels and regulate insulin production makes it a medicinal drink for diabetes patients. Often used to cure colds and flu, ginger relieves the symptoms of the upper respiratory tract that often involving the throat, eyes, nose, and head. Ginger opens the pores and promotes sweating through warming and stimulating diaphoretic that help the body to “sweat out” a fever. One of the favorite home remedies is to have the patient drink a cup of hot ginger lemon tea and then wrapping with blankets. Ginger also improves blood circulation which helps to build up a stronger immune system in general.

Ginger was particularly valuable in ancient times when diagnosing in a precise way was not possible. Because ginger is an excellent preventive medicine for its universal effectiveness in curbing uncertain illnesses. For instance, it is used to prevent nausea, which is the “queasy” feeling hard to define as it may include physical sicknesses like anxiety, food poisoning, dehydration, and motion sickness. Nevertheless, ginger generally is effective to treat any kind of nausea. It promotes the secretion of digestive enzymes and fluid in the intestinal tract assists in reducing swelling of the stomach muscles. Ginger traditionally has been used to reduce blood pressure that associates with the risks of heart attack and stroke. However, precautions should be taken for those taking blood-thinning drugs including aspirin or warfarin. Because it has anti-inflammatory properties that function as a natural anticoagulant, which may interfere with certain drugs.

Apart from the traditional recipes, the usage of ginger could be as creative as possible, such as hot soup mingled with ingredients like garlic cloves, white onion, and herbs, seasoning as well as other vegetables. It can cooperate into sweets and kid-friendly ginger desserts to improve poor digestion and the feeling of queasy. Such as ginger crunch bake, ginger biscotti, sticky ginger cake, ginger cupcakes and cookies, ginger and spice ice, ginger blueberry sorbet. And the very special gingerbread with royal icing which is made for Christmas! A gingerbread man is not a person but a biscuit or cookie made of ginger in the shape of a stylized human. This “man” lives in a gingerbread house which is also a popular dessert. Gingerbread men had appeared in several fictions originated from the fairy tale “The Gingerbread Man”. Gingerbread men were first attributed to the court of Queen Elizabeth I, and now they are generally served the figurine during the Christmas season. Moreover, a variety of shapes and characters based on seasonal themes like Halloween and Easter are popular as well. As a plant, ginger is an all-purpose must-have in our daily life and has become a cultural symbol of care, warmth, remedy, and cheerful spirits.

Further readings:

Ravidran, P. N. & Babu, K. N. (2005). Ginger – The Genus Zingiber. CRC Press Web.

Gladstar, R. (2014). Herbs for common ailments – how to make and use herbal remedies for home health care. Storey Publishing.

Stone., A. (2015). Ginger – uncover the incredible healing and disease fighting powers of this ancient root.