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Ginger

Latin Names: Zingiber officinale; Rhizoma Zingiberis

Other Names: Zanjabil (Arabic, Persian); Adrak (fresh), Sunthi (dry) (Sanskrit); Sheng Jiang (fresh), Gan Jiang (dry), Pao Jiang (burned) (Chinese)

Taxonomy: Vegetable Kingdom; Zingiberaceae family

Part Used: Rhizome

Basic Qualities: Hot 2 (fresh) / Hot 3 (dry), Dry 1 (fresh) / Dry 2 (dry)

Other Qualities: The fresh root is heavier and more unctuous, whereas the dry Ginger is dry, light and penetrating.

Taste: Spicy or Pungent

Humoral Dynamics: Sanguine – vitalizes and attenuates the blood and improves its circulation.  Phlegmatic – concocts and dissolves phlegm, cleanses the lymph of toxins and impurities.  Choleric – can aggravate heat and inflammation, but only in large quantities, dried Ginger is hotter and stronger in this respect.  Melancholic – facilitates the expulsion of wind and flatulence, eases nervous tension and spasm in the digestive tract.

Tropism: Stomach and digestive tract, lungs and respiratory tract, blood and circulation, skin and pores, lymphatic fluids (fresh)

Constituents and Pharmacology: 1 – 2% volatile oil, containing zingiberine, zingerone, camphene, borneol, phellandrene and citral. Pungent principles – gingerol, gingerdiones, shogaols (Mills & Bone 2000, Williamson 2003).

Medicinal Properties: Stomachic, carminative, digestive and metabolic stimulant, diaphoretic (fresh), expectorant, detoxifier, antiemetic, antidote, corrective.

Cautions and Contraindications: Because Ginger can thin the blood, you should check with your physician if you are taking prescription blood thinners. For the same reason, you should use Ginger only in small doses, and with caution, if you are pregnant.

Medicinal Uses: Strengthens and harmonizes the stomach and digestion, relieves nausea and vomiting. Concocts and dissolves phlegm as an expectorant. Stimulates appetite and digestion and resolves toxins in the digestive tract, eliminates wind and flatulence. The fresh root is a diaphoretic in sweating out colds and flu, while at the same time protecting the pores and strengthening the Thymic immune shield of the body. The fresh root also is a great detoxifier that purifies the lymphatic fluids of the body. Ginger is also a mild agent for warming the body in cold weather and alleviating rheumatism, as well as improving blood circulation.

Preparation and Dosage: Except where contraindicated, Ginger is a remarkably mild, safe and nontoxic herb. The dried herb is generally more heating and potent than the fresh root, but generally speaking, a tablespoon of the grated fresh root per cup of water is sufficient for a tea with lemon and honey. When using the dried root in teas and powders, 5 – 10% of the formula is a good general guideline to follow.

Herbal Formulation: Ginger is a great and versatile digestive, circulatory and metabolic stimulant that is not overly heating, and which is generally very well tolerated. For this reason, small to moderate amounts of it are often included in herbal formulas to improve the dispersal and circulation of the other ingredients throughout the body. Its great versatility as a digestive herb makes it a perennial favorite in formulas to treat the stomach and digestion. It can also be used to harmonize or strengthen the stomach and digestion as an antidote or corrective in formulas containing harsh laxatives, or other ingredients that can be hard on the stomach or digestion.

Classic Combinations: With Ginseng, and also with Cardamom to strengthen the stomach and digestion. With Peppermint to settle and soothe the stomach in indigestion and nausea. With Fennel or Anise as a stomachic / carminative, to relieve indigestion, gas, bloating and flatulence. With Prickly Ash Bark to stimulate and improve capillary and blood circulation, and to cleanse and purify the lymph. With Black Pepper, and also Long Pepper as a digestive and metabolic stimulant, and also to concoct and expel cold phlegm, especially in colds and flu. With Garlic as a digestive and immune stimulant, and to improve one’s resistance to colds and flu.

Description: Ginger is a favorite herb with many people, for both culinary as well as medicinal use.  It comes in many forms – fresh, dried, candied, powdered, etc…, but the two most common forms used in herbal medicine are the fresh root, and the dried root.  The charred or burned root is used in Chinese herbal formulas to remove the afterbirth and regenerate the blood in postpartum mothers, in the Middle East, the charred root is ground to a powder and mixed with oils like Castor Oil to form a thick paste called Kohl, which is used as a therapeutic eyeliner for those who suffer from blurry vision due to excessive moisture in the eyes.  The Chinese even use the peel of the fresh Ginger root, called Sheng Jiang Pi, as a mild diuretic that improves the digestion while getting rid of puffiness and edema under the skin.

Dried Ginger has been called one of the most balanced and versatile digestive and metabolic stimulants in the herbal kingdom, and is used in small doses in herbal formulas to improve the circulation and dispersal of the other ingredients into the body, as well as to protect the stomach and digestion as a corrective, especially when other ingredients, such as harsh laxatives, may be hard on the digestion.  As a digestive, circulatory and metabolic stimulant, Ginger is quite heating and stimulating without being excessively so, to the point of provoking aggravations of latent heat and choler in the body, or irritation and inflammation, as many of the hotter stimulants are apt to do.

In fact, even though it is heating in nature, Ginger is an anti-inflammatory, which is quite rare in the herbal kingdom, as inflammation is generally a manifestation of heat in the body.  However, if serious conditions of aggravated heat or choler already exist, such as ulcers, heartburn or GERD, it is best to avoid using this herb, or at least to be cautious, and refrain from using it in large doses by itself.  Excessive sweating and capillary dilation, due to excessive heat in the body, would be another contraindication for its use. 

Humorally speaking, dry Ginger’s main thrust, as a heating and drying herb, is to reduce and subside excessive or superfluous phlegm by concocting and dissolving it.  This effect can be useful for excessive or turbid phlegm in the stomach and digestive tract as well as excessive cold phlegm in the lungs and respiratory tract.  Ginger is also a good herb to use to warm the interior and dispel chills in the initial stages of colds and flu.  Because of its heating properties as a digestive stimulant, Ginger improves the digestion and appetite by getting rid of turbid toxic residues of a faulty or incomplete digestion, this action can also settle the stomach as an antiemetic in nausea, vomiting and motion sickness.  In Chinese parlance, Ginger harmonizes the stomach.  Avicenna tells us that Ginger warms and stimulates both the stomach and the liver, which are the main organs of the first and second stages of digestion, respectively.  In Japanese Sushi restaurants, Ginger is served as a garnish to neutralize the cold, heavy toxins of raw fish, Ginger, as well as other condiments, like Garlic and Horseradish, is effective for digesting and resolving the cold, heavy toxic residues of many other meats as well, particularly red meats. 

The warming properties of Ginger also make it useful for subsiding nervousness, wind and melancholy, both in the GI tract and elsewhere in the body, as Ginger is also a carminative and an antispasmodic.  The warming action of Ginger loosens nervous and muscular tensions held in the gut and improves the flow of the Natural Force of digestion in the liver, stomach and intestinal tract.  The antispasmodic properties of fresh Ginger root make the tea an excellent remedy for menstrual cramps, especially when caused by cold and/or congealed blood.  Dried Ginger gently warms the body, improves blood circulation, and dispels cold, moist rheumatic humors, Ginger combines well with other antirheumatic herbs and assists in their therapeutic efficacy.  Cold causes constriction and spasm, which can be eased and loosened by the warming and stimulating action of Ginger. 

As a home remedy for colds and flu, fresh Ginger has some distinctive and stellar virtues.  While still being quite heating and stimulating to warm the body and disperse chills, although not as strongly so as the dried Ginger, fresh Ginger is also a diaphoretic that provokes sweating, which is Nature’s therapy for colds and flu.  Although quite a few other herbal diaphoretics exist, the danger is that, while the pores are open, new pathogenic factors of colds and flu can enter, especially if the body is not sufficiently protected by warm clothing.  But fresh Ginger has the distinctive property of being able to guard the open pores against the invasion of new pathogenic factors, even while allowing the existing ones to be sweated out.  This ability to stimulate and strengthen the external Thymic immune shield of the body makes fresh Ginger a very important herb to use in your cooking when the cold weather is coming on, and the winter cold season is approaching, combined with Garlic, it makes a tasty duo for immune stimulation. 

Fresh Ginger, having more inherent “juice” and moisture than the dry Ginger, has a greater affinity for the moist, flourishing Sanguine and Phlegmatic humors than the latter.  In Ayurvedic medicine, fresh Ginger is recognized as an herb to cleanse the blood and lymph of toxins.  Ginger, both fresh and dry, attenuates and improves the circulation of blood, and for this reason, it may not be suitable for those who are on prescription blood thinners, for the same reason, it should be used with caution in pregnancy, and not in daily doses exceeding 2 gms.  As an herb to thin and stimulate the circulation of blood, or the Sanguine humor, Ginger is fairly mild when compared to some of its close botanical relatives, like Turmeric or Zedoary root, and according to some herbalists, cautions regarding the use of Ginger in pregnancy may be exaggerated.  And so, a little fresh Ginger tea can be taken during pregnancy to relieve the symptoms of morning sickness, and normal culinary use generally presents no problems.

Sources: The Canon of Medicine by Avicenna, translated and compiled by Laleh Bakhtiar, pp. 505 – 507. @2012 by Laleh Bakhtiar, Published by Great Books of the Islamic World, Inc., Distributed by Kazi Publications.

Ayurvedic Medicine: The Principles of Traditional Practice by Sebastian Pole, pp. 183 & 184.  @2006 by Elsevier / Churchill Livingstone

DISCLAIMER:  The information in this article is for educational purposes only, for general health maintenance and prevention, and is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical disease or condition. The reader assumes all personal responsibility and liability for the application of the information contained in this article, and is advised to seek the services of a physician or licensed healthcare practitioner should his or her symptoms or condition persist or worsen.