the "Horn Root"
current name comes from the Middle English gingivere, but
ginger dates back over 3,000 years to the Sanskrit sringaveram
meaning "horn root" with reference to its appearance.
In Greek it was ziggiberis, and in Latin, zinziberi. Although
it was well-known to the ancient Romans and recorded as
a subject of a Roman tax in the second century after being
imported via the Red Sea to Alexandria, it nearly disappeared
in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. Thanks to
Marco Polo's trip to the Far East, ginger came back into
favor in Europe, becoming not only a much-coveted spice,
but also a very expensive one. Tariff duties appear in the
records of Marseilles in 1228 and in Paris in 1296. Ginger
was known in England before the Norman Conquest, as it is
commonly found in the 11th century Anglo-Saxon leech books.
Ginger (botanical name Zingiber officinale and in the same
family as turmeric and cardamom) is native to Southern Asia
and has long been a staple addition to Asian cuisines.
It has a tan skin and flesh that ranges in color from pale
greenish yellow to ivory. It has a peppery and slightly
sweet flavor, with a pungent and spicy aroma. This extremely
versatile root has long been a mainstay in Asian and Indian
cooking and found its way early on into European foods as
well. The Chinese, Japanese and East Indians use fresh gingerroot
in a variety of forms-grated, ground and slivered-in many
Medical research has shown that ginger root
is an effective treatment for nausea caused by motion sickness
or other illness. Although very effective against all forms
of nausea, PDR health officials do not recommend taking
ginger root for morning sickness commonly associated with
pregnancy. Ginger root also contains many antioxidants.
Powdered dried ginger root is made into pills for medicinal
use. Chinese women traditionally eat ginger root during
pregnancy to combat morning sickness. Ginger ale and ginger
beer have been recommended as "stomach settlers"
for generations in countries where the beverages are made.
Ginger water was commonly used to avoid heat cramps in the
United States in the past.
In addition to providing relief from nausea
and vomiting, ginger extract has long been used in traditional
medical practices to decrease inflammation. In fact, many
herbalists today use ginger to help treat health problems
associated with inflammation, such as arthritis, bronchitis,
and ulcerative colitis. In a recent study of 261 people
with osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee, those who received
a ginger extract twice daily experienced less pain and required
fewer pain-killing medications compared to those who received
a placebo. Although there have also been a few other studies
of the benefit of ginger for arthritis, one recent trial
found that the herb was no more effective than ibuprofen
(a medication frequently used to treat OA) or placebo in
reducing symptoms of OA.
Although it is too early to tell if ginger
will benefit those with heart disease, a few preliminary
studies suggest that ginger may lower cholesterol and prevent
blood clots. In effect, ginger may protect the blood vessels
from the damaging effects of blockage such as arteriosclerosis,
which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Again, however,
it is too early to know the outcome of these initial studies.
Despite studies showing ginger's aid for
pregnancy nausea, some studies indicate that high amounts
of ginger may cause miscarriages. High dosages could cause
gastric problems and possibly ulcers. Before taking ginger,
consumers should check dosages with a healthcare provider.
Consumers should not ingest the whole ginger plant; it has
been found to damage the liver in animals. Ginger root is
not recommended for people with gallstones.
Historically, ginger has been used to aid
digestion. According to Michael Castleman in The Healing
Herbs, ancient Greeks wrapped ginger inside their bread
and ate it as an after-dinner digestive. This practice led
to their invention of gingerbread. English society concocted
ginger beer to soothe the stomach. In the 1800s, the Eclectics
used ginger powder and tea for several digestive complaints,
including indigestion, gas, nausea & infant diarrhea.
Beginning in the 1980s, several studies
have confirmed that ginger is useful in aiding digestion.
A 1999 German study reported that 12 volunteers who took
100 mg of ginger extract twice daily (when fasting and with
a meal) experienced increased digestive movement through
the stomach and duodenum.
A study in India published in 2000 reported
the effects of ginger (in combination with other spices
including cumin, fenugreek, and mustard) on pancreatic action
in rats. During the eight-week study, the combination of
spices stimulated several digestive enzymes in the pancreas.
The Japanese use ginger as an antidote for
fish poisoning, especially with sushi. Ginger is thought
to fight harmful intestinal bacteria (like Staphylococcus,
Streptococcus & harmful strains of E. coli,) without
killing beneficial bacteria. Ginger aids Lactobacillus growth
in the intestines while killing the Schistosoma & Anisakis
Because ginger is an antibacterial, it can
work against ulcers caused by Helicobacter pylori. Ginger
creates an anti-ulcer environment by multiplying the stomach's
Ginger lowers cholesterol levels by impairing
cholesterol absorption, helping to convert it into bile
acids and then increasing bile elimination. In a 1998 study,
rabbits were fed both cholesterol and 200 mg of ginger extract.
The rabbits had a smaller amount of arteriosclerosis. Ginger
also enhances blood circulation and acts as a blood thinner.
Ginger Tea made from dried or powdered ginger
can relieve a cough. Ginger's pungent taste stimulates secretions
that help relieve throat congestion. Preliminary studies
also show ginger may have potential cancer-fighting properties.
No definitive results have been reported and research continues.