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Ginger: A guide for Beginners

Many of us know that ginger is delicious. Ginger teas and foods flavored with fresh ginger have that tang and spice mixed with a freshness that only ginger can provide. But there are also health benefits to ginger. In fact, ginger health benefits may well be the real mark of distinction for this humble root. 

Ginger health benefits have long been known in cultures that value natural medicine. And as far back as the 17th century, folk remedies contained ginger for its many health benefits. From curing a simple stomach-ache, to ward off disease, ginger health benefits have been one of the primary appeals of ginger. 

While most of us know a little about ginger, even if it is simply the tangy freshness of ginger ale, the medicinal value of ginger only recently comes to light. Especially recently, as traditional medical science has begun to take a new look at natural remedies, ginger health benefits are becoming increasingly important. 

What exactly is ginger? What are its chemical properties? And what are the benefits of using ginger as natural medicine?  

What is Ginger?

Ginger is a tropical flowering plant. It originated in Southeast Asia but has been propagated around the world. It is a close relative of turmeric. The leafy plant grows to about three feet and has greenish-purple flowers. It is the root of the ginger plant that has become the main area of interest. 

Ginger root has been a traditional flavoring and healing spice for centuries. It is harvested by pulling the entire plant from the soil to reveal the root. Beyond the healing properties and great taste, ginger is also resilient. It can be used fresh, and it can be dried or made into an extract. 

A small percentage of the essential oil of ginger is extracted for cosmetics and beauty products. 

Ginger Benefits

Since ginger has been used as a traditional fold remedy for centuries, many of its medicinal properties and other benefits have been known for centuries. In recent years, science has caught up with traditional medicine to verify the many benefits of ginger. Ginger is loaded with nutrients and bioactive compounds that benefit both body and mind. Here are the benefits of ginger.

Gingerol and its medicinal properties

Ginger is a rhizome, a type of plant that forms an interconnected underground root system. These roots proliferate and the chemical that is created within these roots is called gingerol. Gingerol has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Gingerol is also good for settling the stomach since it aids digestion. You can take ginger root to fight nausea. 

Since gingerol is so aromatic, it is also effective in treating the symptoms of the common cold and even the flu.

Fight Nausea

Since ginger has been tested scientifically and shown to prevent and alleviate nausea, it is now being used to treat symptoms associated with everything from morning sickness to the debilitating symptoms that accompany chemotherapy. 

The effectiveness of ginger in combating nausea is found in the fact that it has been traditionally used to treat seasickness. Sailors and travelers have been taking ginger to treat nausea for centuries. 

Of the various uses of ginger to treat nausea, recent evidence shows that it is most effective in treating pregnancy-related nausea. A dozen studies have shown that ginger dramatically relieved nausea in pregnant women. 

Treat Muscle Pain

Ginger has shown great promise in treating muscle pain from exercise and other forms of physical exertion. One study showed that taking a ginger supplement in the form of a tea or extract for less than two weeks significantly reduced muscle pain in people who regularly exercise. 

Using ginger to treat muscle pain does not have an immediate analgesic effect. Rather, taking ginger regularly tends to alleviate muscle pain. It is believed that the anti-inflammatory properties of ginger help with muscle pain.   

Help Treat Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a common ailment. Osteoarthritis causes degeneration of the joints in the body which leads to serious joint pain and stiffness. 

The anti-inflammatory effects of ginger have been shown to be effective in treating the painful symptoms of osteoarthritis. Research that included nearly 250 patients with osteoarthritis revealed that people who took a ginger extract supplement found dramatic reductions in pain and other symptoms. They also require significantly less pain medication. 

Another study looked at a combination of ginger, mastic, cinnamon, and sesame oil. This study also showed significant reductions in pain and other symptoms in patients who suffer from osteoarthritis.  

Lower Blood Sugar

Ginger has the capacity to lower blood sugar levels. This means ginger can be used as a potential treatment for diabetes, along with other prescribed medications. 

A study in 2015 looked at patients with type 2 diabetes. In this study, researchers found that just 2 grams of ginger powder per day lowered blood sugar levels by as much as 12 percent. This can reduce the number of other diabetes medications a patient needs to treat their condition. 

Help Reduce the Risk of Certain Types of Heart Disease

In addition to reducing the symptoms of diabetes, which can lead to heart disease, ginger has the potential to treat other conditions that lead to heart disease. 

Ginger root supplements were shown to be effective in reducing a specific type of lipoprotein ratio that is indicative of heart disease. What is more, ginger root also reduced levels of certain markers of another type of lipo-protein that also contributes to heart disease. These lipoproteins were cut down by as much as 28 percent with ginger root extract supplements. 

Fight Chronic Indigestion

The primary symptoms of chronic indigestion are recurrent pain and discomfort in the upper part of the stomach. For people who suffer from chronic indigestion, the simple fact of eating can become a painful process. 

One of the causes of chronic indigestion is a delay in emptying the contents of the stomach toward the rest of the digestion processes. Ginger has been shown to speed up the process of emptying the contents of the stomach. One study showed that taking some kind of ginger supplement, even in the form of a simple tea, can accelerate the process of emptying the stomach by as much as 16 minutes. This can be all it takes to completely alleviate chronic indigestion.  

Reduce Menstrual Pain

One of the traditional uses of ginger has been to treat menstrual pain or dysmenorrhea. Now, medical studies have shown that ginger is effective in treating menstrual pain. 

Women who took as little as 1 gram of ginger powder in any form during the first three days of their menstrual cycle experienced drastically less pain associated with menstruation. 

Ginger Nutrition

The basic nutrition information on ginger is pretty revealing. Here are the facts:

  • Calories: 32
  • Fat: 0.4g
  • Sodium: 0mg
  • Carbohydrates: 6.9g
  • Fiber: 1.4g
  • Sugars: 13g
  • Protein: 0.9g

Ginger on its own is a simple food supplement that carries little to no health risks. Even the amount of carbohydrates can be reduced to zero simply by infusing a tea with fresh or powdered ginger. 

Since the benefits of ginger come almost exclusively from the chemical gingerol, its nutrition benefits are largely negligible. However, ginger does make one of the finest flavorings known in cuisine. It can be used for almost any type of cooking—from savory dishes to pastry. This means you can get the health benefits of ginger into your home-cooked meals without adding any significant calories or carbohydrates to what you are eating. 

Ways to prepare ginger

For cooking, look for ginger roots with skin that is firm and unblemished. Do not buy ginger roots that appear shriveled or covered with mold. A good piece of the ginger root should have the peppery aroma with a slight tinge of citrus, and you should be able to smell this aroma even with the skin intact. Select ginger roots that do not have too many bumps and odd shapes. This will make it easier to prepare the ginger. 

You can use a vegetable peeler or even a knife to peel the ginger root, but the best method is to use a simple teaspoon. Take the edge of the spoon and gently pull away from the skin from the root. This should be easy with little resistance. 

Depending on what you are going to flavor with the ginger, you can dice, julienne, or finely chop the root. Some recipes will call for thinly sliced ginger (this is the method for some pickling recipes). 

To prepare fresh ginger for medicinal uses slice your peeled ginger root and place the slices in a window for 3 to 4 days. If you have a dehydrator, you can dry fresh ginger fairly quickly, but do not exceed 150 degrees or it will burn off the gingerol, which is the therapeutic part of the root. 

Make sure you check the ginger root as it dries often. In the window, check every few hours. If you use a dehydrator, check every 20 minutes. You do not want to completely desiccate ginger root. 

Once the ginger is dried you can pound it into a powder using a mortar and pestle, or you can use a stone grinder. 

Ginger Dosage

Like every natural medicine, the concentrations of the active ingredient gingerol will vary from one plant to the next. Therefore, a strict dosage is difficult to calculate. The general guidelines for ginger dosages are as follows. 

To treat nausea and digestive problems, take 1-3 grams as a preventative. This applies if you are taking ginger for pregnancy-related nausea. 

For menstrual pain, take 1-3 grams through the length of your cycle. 

For most other uses, about 1 gram of dried ginger in the form of a supplement or powder will usually suffice. Ginger is safe and you can up your dosage if you think you need more. Increase the amount of ginger you take by 1 gram increment to arrive at a proper dosage. 

You can take ginger in a variety of forms. In general, you will get 1 gram of ginger from the following methods: 

  • A capsule that has 1g ginger extract in it
  • A teaspoon of fresh, grated, rhizome (the vertical aspect of ginger root)
  • 2 droppers (2mL) of liquid extract
  • 2 teaspoons (10mL) of syrup
  • 4 cups (8 oz each) ginger tea, steeping 1/2 teaspoon grated ginger for 5–10 min
  • 8-oz cup ginger ale, made with real ginger
  • 2 pieces crystallized ginger, each 1-inch square, 1/4 inch thick

Ginger Risks

Ginger is a safe and effective natural treatment for a vast array of conditions. It is safe and has been used as a traditional medicine and culinary ingredient for centuries. However, there are a few side effects from taking ginger. Watch out for the following issues:

  • heartburn
  • gas
  • stomachache
  • burning in the mouth

Do not consume more than 4 grams of ginger on any given day in any form.

Ginger FAQs

What is Ginger? 

Ginger is a plant that originated in Southeast Asia and has been used as a natural remedy and food flavoring for many centuries. The root is the part of the plant used for all purposes that require ginger. 

Does ginger have health benefits?

Yes. Ginger has been scientifically proven to help with digestion problems and nausea, it can help fight several forms of heart disease, ginger can reduce blood sugar levels in diabetics, and ginger has been shown to alleviate the pain and discomfort of osteoarthritis. 

Where can I find ginger? 

Ginger is now available in any grocery store. You can buy powdered ginger in almost any specialty grocer or health food store.

How is ginger used in cooking? 

Fresh or dried ginger is used in almost all forms of cooking. From pastries and baked goods to savory meats and fish, ginger is a versatile ingredient that adds a mild spice with a fresh citrusy flavor. 

How do I prepare ginger? 

Simply buy fresh ginger roots, peel easily with the edge of a spoon, and chop according to your taste. 

How much ginger should I take for health issues? 

The general dosage of ginger is about 1 gram of powdered dried ginger. Do not exceed 4 grams. 

Is ginger safe? 

Yes. Ginger can cause a few problems like heartburn, but ginger is an extremely safe natural food that can be used for medicine and cooking. 

Conclusion

The practice of using ginger root as herbal medicine is an ancient one. There are numerous traditional medicines made from the fresh ginger root or a powder made from dried ginger. As a medicinal plant, ginger is well established around the world. 

Ginger is also a magnificent addition to your cooking. Fresh or dried ginger adds a dash of peppery spice and fresh citrus-like flavor to almost anything it is added to. It fits into baking and pastries, and it makes for delicious meats, poultry, and fish. You can buy fresh ginger and dry it simply by placing it in a window. 

What is more, modern science has begun to catch up with ancient medical practitioners. Numerous scientific studies provide evidence that ginger has a wide array of health benefits. Ginger can alleviate nausea and heartburn. It can help reduce the pain of headaches and severe menstrual pains. Ginger has been shown to reduce blood sugar in diabetics. Finally, ginger can help fight heart disease. 

Ginger may well be one of nature’s miracles. With few side effects, ginger is a legitimate medicine and a delicious spice.    

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