Ginger is a well-known herbaceous plant whose root has been used in cooking and medicine since ancient times. While its current name derives from the Middle English “gingivere,” the spice dates back thousands of years and has names in Greek, Sanskrit, and Latin. For over 5000 years, ginger is believed to have been produced as a tonic root to treat ailments. It was an important trade good exported from India to the Roman Empire, where it was valued for medicinal purposes. After the empire’s fall, it continued to be highly sought after in Europe with spice merchants controlling trade, and in the 13th and 14th centuries, one pound of ginger could be traded for one sheep.
By medieval times it was used in sweets and Queen Elizabeth I was credited with inventing the gingerbread man. Today, ginger is cultivated throughout the humid tropics with India as its largest producer. It is used in numerous forms including fresh, dried, pickled, preserved, crystallized, candied, and ground.
Uses of Ginger
Ginger can be included in recipes or taken as a health supplement. Studies have found it can relieve headaches, migraines, lower back pain, and chest pain caused by heart surgery, as well as having anti-inflammatory effects for arthritis. Studies of ginger and metabolic syndrome show it improved body fat mass, cholesterol levels, waist circumference, insulin resistance, and was found to assist with acute respiratory distress syndrome. Health Canada has labelled ginger an antioxidant, meaning it reduces oxidative stress on the body that can lead to health problems like cancer. Researchers have explored ginger’s potential to reduce the risks of both cancer and diabetes. It may help cardiovascular health by promoting beneficial antiplatelet activity, and in animal studies, it has helped reduce or overcome heart abnormalities in rats with diabetes.
Medical Studies of Ginger
Studies show ginger may help the body break up and expel gas, and may have a beneficial effect on digestive enzymes and help increase movement through the digestive tract, thus improving ailments such as constipation. It may help reduce menstrual pain and relieve morning sickness and chemotherapy-related nausea. Fresh ginger may benefit the respiratory system and has long been used to treat or prevent respiratory illnesses such as colds and influenza. While more research is needed on the health benefits, it is an ancient remedy with few known risks if taken in small amounts of less than 5g per day. Though it can be safely included in most diets, those who wish to use ginger to treat a medical condition should discuss it with their healthcare practitioner.