One of the most popular ingredients in the world, ginger has a million uses and is amazing for your health.
It is the root of a leafy plant with orchid-like flowers that originated in Southeast Asia. Ginger doesn’t exist as a wild species anymore because it has been cultivated so much over the millennia and is also a favourite decorative garden plant but it hasn’t diminished its powers. Ginger root can be white, yellow or reddish, depending on the variety but they all have the same properties.
Probably the best known benefit of ginger is that it can help you defeat feeling sick – whether due to stomach upset, motion sickness, pregnancy or even chemotherapy, ginger is your guy. Studies show it may be more effective than medication and has no side effects. However, we all react differently so while it may work wonders for one person, it may only slightly help the next.
Lower down the digestive tract, it can relieve bloating, cramping and general discomfort. Majority of people react well to ginger and enjoy its benefits but if you take very high doses, it can cause heartburn. If you experienced that, it doesn’t mean you should stay away from ginger, maybe just use a bit less. Small doses have actually been shown to prevent acid reflux and heartburn so it’s all about finding the right amount. In general, two teaspoons of dried, ground ginger is a safe amount and if you use fresh, you can take six times as much.
Ginger is a favourite in the time of colds and flus but it can even help with asthma and allergic coughs. The reason being that it helps to relax the airway muscles so they don’t overly contract, which makes you breathe easier and cough less. Ginger’s anti-inflammatory properties also play a role so it’s certainly a great helper, no matter what exactly is going on with your airways. Chances are, ginger will help with anything related to lungs, breathing or tickly throat.
Ginger works wonders for this painful joint condition. The main issues sufferers experience are pain and swelling – and regular ginger intake reduces both! The best results are achieved over several months so don’t expect instant miracles but scientific studies confirm that ginger is good news for people with arthritis. That’s why you see so many joint supplements with ginger – it’s not a cure but helps alleviate the symptoms.
How does it work?
Ginger contains several potent biochemicals from which gingerols – one of the phenolic compounds – have the strongest effects. Gingerols are very strong antioxidants, protecting our tissues from free radical damage and they have antimicrobial properties, helping to fight infection. In several studies, they were also shown to inhibit cancer cell growth.
Gingerols hinder the production of inflammatory molecules in the body, thus being a natural anti-inflammatory, calming angry tissues such as joints, bowels or airways.
And as if that wasn’t enough, ginger has also been shown to have a neuroprotective effect – helping to protect our nerves against damage and prevent neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Fresh, dried or frozen?
The benefits of ginger are the same whatever form of it you choose – fresh is great but you have to use more and dried is brimming with goodness too but if you cook either for too long they lose a bit of their oomph.
Fresh ginger is arguably superior in flavour and you can visually check that it’s in good shape when buying it, which is not the case with ginger powders. Fresh ginger root is sold in the fruit and vegetable section and when choosing your piece, make sure it is firm, smooth and not mouldy. Keep fresh ginger in the fridge and if you buy too much, you can always freeze it in an airtight container to preserve its goodness.
When it comes to crystalised/candied/stem ginger – the sugared stuff – it may help when you feel a bit icky while travelling but it contains a lot of sugar so consume with caution.
If it’s medicinal properties you’re after, a half or one flat teaspoon of dried ginger - or six times as much of fresh ginger - should guarantee the desired effect.
How to use it
Fresh ginger is perfect thinly sliced for ginger and lemon/orange tea, a smoothie or steeping in your drinking water. Finely chopped, it’s ideal for chai tea, curry, lentil dhal, tofu marinade, stir-fries, spicy soups or sweet baked goods. Dried, ground ginger is also good for tea and cooking but its domain is biscuits and gingerbread. It can also be used externally, mixed with vegetable oil and rubbed into achy joints.
If you’d like to try ginger for therapeutic purposes and are not sure whether you’d stick to a daily ginger portion in the long-term, try a ginger supplement. They are not too pricey and come with a recommended dose to achieve health improvements. They may be made from a concentrated ginger extract or are simply capsules filled with powdered ginger – both can achieve good results but regardless of the form you choose, look for organic to avoid extra chemicals.
Cheap and cheerful, ginger beer is deliciously sweet and may help an upset stomach but it doesn’t contain much ginger and packs a big portion of sugar. It’s a good idea to keep it for special occasions only or for emergencies, when there’s no other form of ginger at hand.
Traditional ginger beer was - and still is – made by fermenting ginger, sugar and yeast with bacteria. The resulting ‘beer’ is naturally fizzy and slightly alcoholic. Modern ginger beers are not brewed but made with carbonated water mixed with other ingredients and so is ginger ale.
Ginger is one powerful root and if there ever was a superfood, ginger is it. Beneficial in myriad ways, cheap and amazingly versatile, you can easily make it a part of your everyday life and reap the benefits.