Growing up in the UK, ginger was not something that I often saw used in cooking.
Actually, I don’t even recall seeing it (in its raw form, at least) in the supermarkets, although I am sure it was probably sold.
I was only really used to seeing it on a spice rack in its ground form and I reckon the first thing I’d have thought of if you’d asked me to name a food with ginger in it would be something sweet, like ginger biscuits, ginger bread or ginger cake.
These days, I still don’t think it’s used regularly in Western cooking, but it’s certainly starting to appear more in smoothies (the reason for which will become apparent as you read on) and ginger tea is becoming increasingly popular.
However, if you happen to live in Asia, particularly India or China, it’s a different story.
You’ll find ginger everywhere!
Having lived in Asia myself for the last decade, I can tell you from first-hand experience that you’d be hard pushed to find a kitchen without fresh ginger in stock. It seems to be used as a raw ingredient in almost everything from soups to stews to stir-fried dishes and, of course, tea.
I personally love the flavour, but the added bonus is the fact that ginger provides numerous nutritional and health benefits.
In fact, it has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic Medicine as a remedy for various ailments, mostly due to its powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Too much inflammation in the body is considered to be a major driver for many diseases and chronic conditions and so any foods that can reduce inflammation and oxidation are regarded as beneficial by doctors and nutritionists.
What is ginger?
Here are some quick facts about ginger:
- Ginger is a flowering plant belonging to the family that includes turmeric and cardamom. It is the underground stems of the plant (called rhizomes) that make ginger known for its medicinal and culinary properties and it can be consumed in various forms – raw, dried, powdered, as a spice or an oil.
- The exact origins of ginger are not known, but it is thought to have originated in the tropical lowland forests in the Indian sub-content and south-east Asia.
- Another interesting fact is that ginger is actually quite rare and difficult to find growing in the wild.
- In India and China, it has been prized for its culinary and its medicinal properties for thousands of years and was being exported to the Roman Empire as a valued commodity over 2,000 years ago.
- Although ginger contains over 100 different constituents, the primary bioactive substance in ginger responsible for its powerful medicinal properties seems to be gingerol.
Health Benefits of Ginger
I’m not going into the science of the effects of ginger here, so at the end of this post, I have provided some links to some useful sources, in case you want to research more into it.
Most of the evidence comes from quite small or inconclusive studies, many of which were carried out on rats, but there is a huge body of anecdotal evidence all over the internet.
The problem with studies is that they are incredibly expensive and almost always funded by Big Pharma.
And, let’s face it, no pharmaceutical company is ever going to fund research that is likely to demonstrate the expensive drugs they sell you can be replaced by something that you can grow in the ground yourself!
But, anyway, I don’t want to go all conspiracy theory on you right here.
All I want to do is open your mind to the amazing range of healing properties ginger can offer and perhaps encourage you to think about incorporating it into your own diet.
Here are 15 common ailments that may be relieved through the consumption of this incredible ‘superfood’ we call ginger.
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Ginger appears to be an extremely effective remedy for the symptoms of nausea, particularly sea sickness and nausea related to pregnancy, i.e. morning sickness.
A common way to take it as a remedy for nausea is as a tea. However, it is also advised that pregnant women drink ginger tea in moderation.
2) Muscle pain and soreness
Eating ginger will often help with chronic conditions over time, but if you are looking for more instant relief, something I have found particularly effective for muscle soreness is the use of a muscle rub/balm that contains ginger like this one, particularly on the back and neck.
This type of heat therapy patch containing ginger essential oil can also be useful in relieving back and muscle soreness.
It’s great for both exercise and posture-induced muscle soreness, but also helps to reduce on-going soreness and stiffness over time when used daily.
If you are rubbing in the balm for yourself or someone else, make sure you don’t touch your eyes or any other sensitive part of your body before washing it off, as it is spicy as Hell!
3) Reducing Menstrual Pain
For many women, menstrual pain can be really quite debilitating.
Ginger has traditionally been used in Chinese Medicine for menstrual pain and studies have found its efficacy to be as good as many over-the-counter medicines designed to relieve cramping of the lower back and abdomen that often occur during menstruation.
The recommended way to take ginger in this case is as a tea with dark brown sugar. Check out our recipe at the end of this post.
4) May lower blood sugar
Ginger may have anti-diabetic properties, since studies have shown that it helps to regulate blood sugar and insulin levels.
Again, studies are limited, but it has been found that gingerols can increase the uptake of glucose into muscle cells without the use of insulin, so there is certainly some evidence to suggest that ginger can help in the management of high sugar levels.
5) Relief from indigestion
Ginger has been shown to reduce the time it takes the stomach to empty its contents. This could be useful for people prone to chronic indigestion (dyspepsia), as it is believed that the delayed emptying of the stomach is one of the major contributing factors.
6) Weight Loss
Ginger can be used to help reduce belly fat. Yeah!
But before you get too excited, you still need to reduce your calorie intake and make sure you exercise if you want to see results, but there are several properties in ginger that can do a lot to assist the process.
Ginger aids digestion and can reduce appetite. In addition, it can regulate levels of cortisol, which is your body’s main stress hormone, high levels of which have been shown to be a major trigger behind belly fat.
Drinking ginger tea may be the best way to take it if your goal is weight loss.
7) Relief from Osteoarthritis
Studies have shown that the use of ginger, both as an oral supplement and topically, can help alleviate the joint-pain symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
While research in support of the effect ginger on arthritis is quite limited, anecdotally, there are many who claim that it helps greatly. I guess the best way to find out is to do your own study and give it a try!
8) May lower Bad Cholesterol
High levels of the so-called bad cholesterol, LDL, is considered a major risk factor for heart disease and ginger may even lower cholesterol levels to a similar extent to statins, which are prescribed massively in Western medicine these days.
9) Protects the liver
Ginger supplementation has been shown to have beneficial effects on some of the issues associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and may support general liver health by reducing oxidative stress, decreasing insulin resistance and inhibiting inflammation.
One of the major causes of age-related cognitive decline and the onset of diseases like Alzheimer’s, is said to be oxidative stress and inflammation.
There is some evidence that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of ginger may offer some protection against this oxidative and inflammatory damage and improve general brain function.
11) May have cancer-fighting properties
Of course, there are many foods touted as ‘superfoods’ that are claimed to be able to help fight some cancers and more research needs to be done, since it is clear that we don’t really know how much truth there is in a lot of these claims.
Ginger is one of these and one of its most studied components is a substance named -gingerol, which is believed to possess these anti-cancer properties.
While the exact mechanism is still not fully understood, it appears that ginger may reduce allergic responses through the reduction of Immunoglobin E (IgE) levels in the body.
IgE is an antibody produced by white blood cells to fight infection and it is known that high levels of IgE in the system are associated with allergic asthma. So, it figures that reducing IgE levels may help.
A couple of studies reported that a ginger extract inhibits airway contraction and associated calcium signalling, possibly by blocking plasma membrane calcium channels,soitcould be useful in allergic asthma.
13) Cold and Flu Remedy
Our intake of vitamin C is usually the first thing we think of boosting when we feel a cold or flu coming on, but research has shown that ginger could also do the trick.
While ginger does contain trace amounts of vitamin C, research has shown that it also has anti-microbial properties that could help shorten a cold and the warming effect of ginger helps to reduce symptoms.
In addition, ginger helps to enhance circulation and warms the muscles.
14) Relief from eczema
The anti-inflammatory properties of ginger are great at soothing irritated skin and many eczema sufferers swear by it as an alternative treatment to topical steroids when used regularly.
In addition to eating it or drinking it as a tea, a bath infused with ginger has also been reported to bring relief and heal the skin over time.
15) May boost testosterone in men
A quick Google search will return a lot of results linking ginger and testosterone, but the problem when you search this kind of subject is that you soon end up down a rabbit hole of muscle-building scams, fake impotence cures and all other kinds of nonsense.
From what I can tell, clinical studies in humans to support this are limited, but based on studies done on rats, ginger certainly has potential as a testosterone booster.
Drinking some ginger tea everyday is unlikely to do any harm, so give it a try and see if you start feeling friskier than usual!
As mentioned at the start, very few human studies have been done on ginger, but it is clear that this special plant root is hugely rich in antioxidants and possesses awesome anti-inflammatory properties, so adding it to your diet is likely to be beneficial in some way or other, even if you are not targeting a particular therapeutic use.
And the fact that it can really enhance the flavour of many dishes is not a bad thing either.
How to include ginger in your diet
How much ginger you put in your diet and how you consume it is really up to your own personal taste. The easiest way is probably to cook with it.
However, ginger does not always lend itself to Western style cooking and so if you find that you can’t do it without completely changing your meal repertoire, start with some ginger tea made from fresh ginger. See below for recipe.
If you can’t be bothered to do that, try these tea bags instead.
Another option is a ginger root supplement like this one.
Potential side effects
As with anything you put into your body, don’t do it to excess.
For adults, the guideline seems to be no more than 4 grams per day. If ginger is new to your diet, the main things to consider are any pre-exisiting conditions you have and potential interactions with any current medications.
If you’ve any doubts or concerns, always consult with a physician first.
How To Make Ginger Tea
There are plenty of ginger tea recipes out there. I know that some people simply steep a piece of ginger in a cup of hot water and then add a bit of lemon and sugar or honey to taste.
This is fine, but I feel that what you get using that method is more of a ginger-infused drink.
The better way to prepare it is to boil up a batch in a saucepan, which helps to extract the full essence and produce a genuinely potent ginger tea.
Here’s the way we make it at ‘home’ in China.
- 15g approximately of fresh ginger per cup (we’re not actually that scientific about it and simply use a ‘chunk’ of an inch or so per person!)
- 250 ml water per person
- 30g dark brown sugar per cup (Chinese like this type of sugar for its warming effect)
- 4 dried jujubes (Chinese dates) per cup.
- Wash the ginger root in cold water. You can scrub it and peel it if you like, but we don’t normally bother.
- Cut the ginger root in a diagonal direction into several slices.
- Wash the jujubes and place in the pan of water with the ginger and bring to the boil.
- Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, add the dark brown sugar to your taste and bring back to the boil.
- You can pour into cups with or without the jujubes and the ginger pieces, depending on your preference.
That’s it – simple as that!
You can also add other ingredients to mix up the flavour. Try adding lemon or cinnamon and using manuka honey in place of dark brown sugar.
Play around with the ratios of ingredients until you find a mix you like. If the ginger flavour is too spicy for you, try cooking it for just 15 minutes instead. Generally, the longer you cook it for, the stronger the flavour.
Personally, I like the second cup of a batch that has been left in the pan to cool down and then re-heated!