More than just candy

In ancient times herbs and spices were used to preserve foods. Their effectiveness in food preservation was the result of their potent antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) was one of the first Oriental spices to reach Europe. While ginger is indigenous to Southeast Asia, it is now widely cultivated in China, India, the United States, Australia, and the West Indies.

Ginger is a perennial tropical plant with a thick tuberous rhizome. The fleshy rhizomes of ginger are harvested when the plant is about one year old and sundried for about a week. Typically the ginger sold in a store is candied or crystallized. Fresh ginger rhizomes are boiled in a sugar solution, then sliced and sprinkled with granulated sugar.

Ginger has a long history of use as a flavoring agent. It is frequently used in Indian and Chinese cuisine. Ginger-bread and ginger beer are examples of popular Western foods of yesteryear that utilized ginger. Ginger is a popular seasoning because of its sweet aromatic odor and pungent taste. Ginger can be used in entrées, breads, fruit desserts, cake, pies, puddings, and preserves. It contributes a unique freshness to food. It has a tendency to round out some flavors while accenting others.

A Travel Aid

Because of its antiemetic qualities ginger has proved to be a valuable aid in treating nausea and preventing the vomiting associated with motion sickness. A study with college students who were highly susceptible to motion sickness found that about one gram of powdered ginger was very effective in reducing the symptoms of motion sickness. Typically ginger should be consumed about 30 minutes before travel. Recently, when my family took a boat cruise to Alaska, the captain offered everyone on board either pieces of ginger or ginger cookies to help prevent seasickness.

Ginger’s activity is caused by its aromatic, volatile oil, which produces its characteristic odor. Active compounds include the terpenoids zingiberene and bisabolene and the aromatic gingerols. The latest research revealed that about a half dozen compounds appear to be important in providing the antiemetic activity of gingerroot. The antiemetic mechanism of ginger appears to be the result of (not an effect on) the central nervous system, but rather a gastrointestinal effect.

Other Properties

Ginger has also been used in the treatment of vertigo, colic, lack of appetite, vomiting associated with morning sickness in pregnancy, and rheumatic complaints. Ginger is used as a digestive aid, since it promotes the secretion of saliva and gastric juices and increases the action of peristalsis in the intestines. In the past, ginger was used to relieve flatulence and prevent belching. The oil in ginger contains compounds that relieve coughing and are reported to have analgesic and fever-reducing properties.

Lower Risk of Blood Clots and Cancer

Ginger’s use may diminish the risk of blood clots forming and increase bleeding time, since ginger extracts inhibit the clumping of human platelets. This could be valuable for heart patients at high risk of forming dangerous blood clots. The compounds in ginger responsible for this activity are mainly two labdane diterpenoid compounds and to a much lesser degree some six different gingerols. The powerful diterpene inhibitors appear to be as active in inhibiting blood clots as the sulfur compounds in onions. Preliminary data from research with rabbits shows that ginger may also help to lower blood cholesterol levels.

The rhizome of ginger contains more than 20 phenolic compounds, known as gingerols and diarylheptanoids. Some of these phenolic constituents are potent antioxidants and possess antimutagenic activity and pronounced anti-inflammatory activity. These compounds also inhibit various cancers. The anticancer activity of ginger is due in large part to the presence of the antioxidant curcumin, a substance also found in the herb turmeric. Curcumin is reported to stimulate the activity of glutathione-S-transferase, an enzyme that assists in the elimination of cancer-causing substances from the body. The aromatic substances in ginger exhibit a strong antioxidant activity similar to that of vitamin E.

Safe Use

A typical daily dose of ginger is two to four grams (one-half to one teaspoon) of the rhizome or one-half to one gram three times a day. A single dose of one to two grams of powdered rhizome is normally effective as an anti-emetic. Modest amounts of ginger appear to be safe, since no toxic or unpleasant side effects have been reported. Excessive consumption may interfere with cardiac, antidiabetic, and anticoagulant therapy. Persons with gallbladder disease should consult a physician before they consume ginger.


Ginger, with its unique aromatic flavor, enjoys many culinary applications. Its health-promoting properties surely elevate ginger to being more than just a candy. Ginger is useful for treating an upset stomach, preventing symptoms of nausea and motion sickness, and increasing the action and tone of the bowel. Its antitumor properties and ability to reduce the risk of blood clot formation makes it a useful herb for lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Remember: Herbal products and dietary supplements can have pharmacological effects, may produce adverse reactions in some people, and could interact with over-the-counter and prescription medications you may take. Discuss with your physician your decision to use any herbal product. Anything mentioned in this article is not intended to diagnose, prescribe, or treat any ailment.

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