Ginger-Medicinal Actions, Uses, and Cautions

Please note: Research on the medicinal uses of herbs, alone and in combination with synthetic drugs, is new and not yet definitive. If you already take prescription drugs, have a serious or chronic medical condition, or are just unsure if herbal remedies are appropriate for you, please consult with your physician before using them.

General information
Ginger, whose botanical name is Zingiber officinale, has been grown in India and China for thousands of years. It was a major source of early trade from the Orient, and today is still commonly used there, in cooking and for medicinal purposes (in traditional Chinese medicine and in ayurvedic medicine). It needs a tropical climate, with a lot of warmth and humidity, so it hasn’t been easy to cultivate worldwide, although it is now also grown in the West Indies.

Ginger was quite common in ancient Rome, where it was used to eye problems, including cataracts. In fact, it was so common there that the government decided to tax it, which made it a lot more expensive. It was also very expensive in other parts of the world, most especially Britain in the Middle Ages.

The rhizome, which grows underground but is technically not a root, is the part of ginger that’s used medicinally. It keeps well and can be found fresh in some groceries, as well as in its usual dried form for cooking. For medicinal purposes it comes in capsules, tablets, syrup (preferably made with honey), and candied. It’s fairly easy to find the essential oil of ginger as well.

Medicinal actions
Ginger’s active ingredients, gingerol and shogaol, relieve nausea, regardless of its cause. It has been theorized that these ingredients quiet the part of the brain that causes vomiting.

Ginger also has an anti-inflammatory effect; it seems to regulate the chemicals that cause inflammation. And because it is calming to the gastrointestinal tract, it can cause fewer problems than synthetic anti-inflammatory drugs, which in many people trigger major stomach upsets.

It also inhibits platelet aggregation (clumping), which is common in people with coronary artery disease, so it may also be good for heart problems. And its warming effect is good for the general circulation.

Medicinal uses
Ginger’s most common use may be as a treatment for digestive problems, including gas, bloating, cramps, and even colic in babies (if it’s diluted). Research has shown that it’s also more effective than Dramamine for nausea. It has been used successfully against seasickness, airsickness, and even morning sickness in pregnant women.

Because it’s a warming herb, it also has a diaphoretic effect (meaning it causes sweating) that’s used by some herbalists to help their patients develop a fever and recover more quickly from a cold or the flu.
– Simmer the ginger root in water, then strain the water, soak a cloth in it, and apply the cloth to the affected area
– Mix ginger juice with olive or sesame oil and massage it into the skin. This oil can also be applied to the scalp as a remedy for dandruff, or put on a cotton ball which is then inserted into the external ear canal to help an earache.

The essential oil of ginger is also useful against colds, coughs, sore throats, arthritis, and has even been used occasionally as an aphrodisiac.

And don’t forget the obvious – you can cook with ginger frequently to enjoy its flavor as well as its medicinal benefits. It’s great added to meat, because it helps make the meat easier to digest.

Ginger can keep platelets from clumping, so it can act as a blood thinner, which means it should not be used by someone who is taking other anticoagulants. It’s also not recommended for people with gallstones, or those who are taking digoxin, phenothiazines, tetracycline, or sulfa drugs. And it may interfere with the absorption of iron and fat-soluble vitamins, so it’s best not to take them at the same time as a ginger supplement.

Ginger is generally safe for short-term use during pregnancy, for easing morning sickness. But it should not be used by pregnant women who have gallstones.

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