Ginger (Zingiber officinale) has been prized for centuries for its benefits to human health and well-being. It originated in Asia, and was used widely as both a culinary and a medicinal herb in not only Asian but Indian and Arabic traditions as well. The Zingiber officinale variety grows approximately 2 to 3 feet (0.6 to 0.9 meter) tall, has sword-like leaves and yellowish green flowers, with leaves growing from a cane. The aromatic rhizome is the part that is used for both medicinal and culinary applications. Although this is commonly referred to as ginger-root, it is a misnomer, as it is actually a form of plump underground stem, not a true root. The rhizome may be used fresh, cooked in food or steeped as a tea. Its volatile oils (e.g., gingerol and shogaol) and compounds may be distilled; or it may be dried and ground and used in capsules or other powdered forms.
In the Asian medicine tradition, ginger is considered to possess “hot” or “warming” attributes. It is favored as a remedy for digestive ailments ranging from upset stomach to diarrhea to abdominal bloating due to excessive gas; said to palliate nausea; and viewed as an all-around digestive aid. It is therefore frequently served as a condiment with greasy or fatty foods. Additionally, it is believed that ginger is beneficial in the treatment of heart, circulatory, and menstrual problems, and is used to treat migraine headaches and arthritis as well.
In the Ayurvedic tradition, ginger is highly regarded as having many diverse healing properties, and is used prominently in treating ailments of the digestive tract. It is also appreciated for its value as a stimulant, enhancing the flow of saliva, for example, making it a beneficial treatment of maladies of the throat, such as laryngitis and sore throat.
Modern conventional medicine is beginning to explore the ways that ginger can be used medicinally to benefit patients suffering from a range of illnesses. For example, there are a number of studies under way investigating its role as an anti-emetic and its potential for use in helping alleviate the symptoms of nausea and vomiting in patients undergoing chemotherapy. It may also reduce post-surgical nausea and vomiting, motion sickness, and prenatal morning sickness. Other studies show possible support for ginger’s benefits in helping to ease the joint paint of various inflammatory conditions. More research and clinical trials will be necessary to obtain conclusive evidence.
Ginger is available in capsules, tablets, liquid extracts and tinctures, and powders, as well as in teas, cookies such as ginger snaps, and candies. The rhizome may also be used fresh. Although the use of small amounts of fresh ginger — as in quantities consumed in ordinary culinary use — is considered to be generally safe, dried, powdered, and extracted forms are considerably stronger and require more careful dosing. People suffering from gallstones or gallbladder disease should avoid ginger. It may interact with certain medicines used to treat cancer, proton pump inhibitors, and blood thinners. Pregnant women may need to avoid consuming the rhizome in quantity. In any of these cases, a physician should be consulted before use.
It should be noted that all herbs contain substances that may cause undesirable side effects or interact with medications. Anyone interested in using ginger medicinally should do so only with a physician’s consent and under the supervision of a knowledgeable and reputable practitioner of homeopathic medicine.