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Ginger: The Gift of Simplicity

We often overlook some of the simplest remedies on the shelf in the food store for bottles with grander promises, better marketing and larger price tags. Ginger root is one of those overlooked and underused commodities. Though the species of ginger, Zingiber officinale, I am speaking of does not grow locally, it is an inexpensive way to aid what ales you with excellent results. Just see how simple and effective a remedy can be.Read more…

Origin

In the late 1800’s, it was written in Kings American Dispensatory that the native country of ginger, Zingiber officinale, was unknown. At the time, it was assumed to be in Asia, but Kings points out that it is cultivated in tropical regions in Asia and America, as well as Sierra Leone. It is also stated that the best ginger was grown in Jamaica.

We now believe that ginger is originally of China, and spread from there to other parts of Asia, West Africa and the Caribbean. And the last statistics I saw a few years ago put China in the lead of export, supplying the world with 25% of its ginger.

Part of Plant Used

It is often said that the root of the Zingiber plant is the part we use medicinally. It is actually the underground root stem, called the rhizome that the medicine resides in. The stem reaches up from the rhizome about 12-16 inches where there are clusters of lovely white and pink flower buds that bloom into yellow flowers. The flowers are amazingly beautiful, and often ginger is grown for the flower alone, of which I don’t believe there is any real medicinal value besides its beauty.

The success of ginger rhizome as a medicinal cannot be ignored. Though best used in a formula with other plants for long term use due to its potentially irritating and hot nature, it fills a niche in the world of anti-inflammatory drugs, aids digestive issues that have arisen as a result of our modern lifestyle, and supports the trials and tribulations of the common cold and flu.

Digestive Fire

Many things can trigger digestive issues. Hormonal and dietary shifts, as well as emotional stress are some major factors. I have also found seasonal changes are a much unnoted point where we begin to suffer from minor digestive complaints. Some seasons push cold, wind and dryness, all of which are reflected in our bodies. To top it off, seasonal changes are not straightforward. They go back and forth in their weather patterns. Our bodies struggle to find a place of balance in so much natural change.

Ginger is excellent for times of seasonal change where digestion is a problem. It is especially good in this climate in Fall, Winter and Early Spring. Ginger moves blood, which improves circulation to the digestive tract, thus increasing digestive function. Ginger aids the release of trapped wind and possible inflammation, stimulating secretion of digestive fluids in the stomach where there was dryness, thus leading to a more efficient absorption of nutrients. This, in turn, balances the function of the colon, relieving diarrhea or constipation depending on how you use it. It can also relieve gastric and intestinal spasms. It will worsen spasms if the condition is too hot, so beware. Ginger also increases secretion of bile and stimulates the conversion of cholesterol into bile acids. This aids the emulsification of fats.

Digestive bitters, formulas of bitter herbs that aid digestion, benefit from the addition of ginger. Ginger is an energetic, meaning it increases circulation to the point where it pushes through stuck energy in the body, paving the way for other plants to go in and do their work. A formula is a great way to use ginger if you are going to use it regularly, for too much ginger can create too much heat in the body.

Anti-Inflammatory

The head is another place where ginger is found to have strong anti-inflammatory effects. Headaches and migraines of a cold nature respond well to ginger when combined with other plants to assist the process of relief. It has been my experience to recommend a formula of fever few, ginger and lavender for migraines of a cold nature. It is important to remember that herbal formulas are mixed per person, not per condition. So be sure to consult a trained herbalist, especially if your condition is severe.

The anti-inflammatory effects of ginger on rheumatoid arthritis, osteo-arthritis and muscular pain have been studied and documented as well. One study of 56 patients with these conditions showed that 3-7 grams of powdered ginger a day was effective in reducing pain, discomfort, and swelling. Of the 46 arthritis patients in the study, more than ¾ experienced degrees of relief of pain and swelling. All patients with muscular discomfort experienced relief in pain. There were no adverse effects reported.

Researchers speculate that ginger acts through inhibition of prostaglandin and leukotriene synthesis, thus acting as a cox2 inhibitor, to decrease inflammation. I have also had good success using ginger in combination with other plants to relieve the pain and inflammation of bursitis and tendonitis.

Nausea and Morning Sickness Menstrual Complaints

Nausea and motion sickness find great relief in ginger. And ginger has long been talked about and studied for relief of morning sickness that plagues most women in their first trimester of pregnancy. In China it is a known and used remedy. The problem is ginger has a mild emmenagogic effect on the body, thus stimulating menstruation. The latest study I saw noted that 50% of women found relief with ginger, and that there were no adverse effects on the pregnancy or side effects. But a word of caution, I don’t know many midwives or herbalists who condone this practice, especially in high-risk pregnancies. And there are other ways to ease the discomfort of morning sickness.
Ginger increases uterine circulation, thus stimulating menstruation. Again, when there is a cold condition characterized by cramping with no bleeding ginger is an effective therapy.

Cold and Flu

In China and India ginger is used as a tea for a cold and flu. When I get a cold, the most soothing thing to me is a hot cup of freshly grated ginger honey tea. And I will admit, when we are a bit under the weather, the last thing one really would like to do is stand at the counter grating ginger and waiting for water to boil. But it is worth it. Cold and flu respond quite well to ginger. In some cases, it can prevent it from coming on. And in others it is great for symptom relief.

Ginger is a diaphoretic, causing a fever to break by increasing body temperature, especially when the nature of the illness is cold. The anti-inflammatory, stimulating and anti-nausea are useful here. I recommend drinking 3 cups of 1 tablespoon of grated ginger in hot water with raw honey 3-4 times a day when you feel the cold or flu coming on to the day after symptoms subside.

Contraindications

There are many speculated contraindications with ginger and some that are proven to be issues. It is not an appropriate plant for you if you have a bleeding disorder or are taking blood-thinning medications. It is not recommended for those suffering from gallstones as it stimulates the release of bile from the gallbladder. Those with digestive diseases such as Chrons and Colitis have excess heat and extreme blockage in the digestive tract. They should use ginger sparingly. Pregnancy is another contraindication. But if you are considering using it, consult with someone with experience in this area. Due to the effects ginger has on the digestive tract; it can speed up the absorption of some drugs.

While these effects are cautionary, they pale in comparison to their pharmaceutical counterparts; non-steroidal-anti-inflammatory drugs, for example, when used in high doses over time have adverse effects on the liver, and also break down the integrity of the intestinal lining. Relieving symptoms with herbs instead of drugs is common, and okay in some cases. But I believe it is inappropriate to market herbs as drug substitutes, for that is not the proper foundation of use.

When in the wake of a health condition, it is also important to change lifestyle and diet, not just attach an herb or therapy to what exists and believe it will solve our problems. The concept of simplicity (in lifestyle and diet) is a treatment we often overlook. There is no grand marketing plan or promise that comes with it, but can be therapeutic in itself. So enjoy a cup of ginger tea, and contemplate simple changes.

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