If you enjoy the taste of pungent spices, ginger is likely already a staple item in your kitchen pantry. Full of zesty flavor that can liven up any dish; fresh ginger root is truly beyond compare. However, few people know how healthy this lumpy looking root really is. If your exposure to ginger is limited to a cup of tea every once in a while, you are missing out on most of the benefits that this tropical root has to offer.
Ready to learn how ginger can add some pizzazz to your daily diet? Read on to learn about the health and culinary benefits of this tasty taproot.
What Is Ginger?
Native to Southeast Asia, the ginger root we eat today is an underground rhizome of the ginger plant. This root can come in a variety of colors ranging from yellow, white and red, and the yellowish brown skin changes in thickness depending on how old the plant is. As part of the zingiberaceae family, ginger is closely related to galangal, cardamom and turmeric.
History of Ginger
Extensively mentioned in ancient East Asian writing, ginger originated in China and has been prized by the Chinese for thousands of years for its culinary and medicinal capabilities. The ancient Romans brought this valuable spice to Europe, where it has remained popular throughout the Mediterranean ever since. By the Middle Ages, ginger had spread throughout the region, though it was far too expensive to be enjoyed by most people because it was imported from Asia. Today, ginger is grown in climates around the world, though the top producers globally are Jamaica, India and Indonesia and Australia.
What Gives Ginger Its Potency?
Most people that enjoy ginger describe it as having a strong, sharp taste. The reason for this distinctive flavor comes from gingerol. As an oily resin in the root of ginger plants, gingerol is shown to have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, making the plants that contain it an essential health tonic.
6 Health Benefits of Ginger
Ginger has long been valued for its healing benefits, and it’s played an important role in traditional medicine for thousands of years. Extensively used to alleviate the symptoms of gastrointestinal distress, ginger possesses many therapeutic benefits that help your digestion, reduce nausea, fight the common cold, and much more.
1. Nausea Treatment
When used as a remedy against sea sickness and other forms of nausea, ginger has been found to be just as effective as prescription medication. It’s also been found to help relieve nausea after surgical procedures, and can even quell bouts of morning sickness caused by pregnancy. Just three capsules of ginger can help your stomach release its contents into the small intestine, which helps relieve nausea right at the source. Ginger also works to relax the smooth muscles in your stomach lining, which allows food to move through the system just as nature intends.
2. Prevents Bacterial Infections
Studies have shown that ginger has some big benefits for enhancing the effectiveness of your immune system. In fact, research from 2011 has shown that ginger is as effective in killing dangerous pathogens like Staphylococcus aureus as regular antibiotics. Because the spread of staph infections is becoming increasingly common in hospitals, the immune-boosting benefits of ginger should not be discounted. For this reason, it’s a smart idea to bring some ginger essential oil with you the next time you go to the hospital. A few drops in your water can go a long ways towards keeping you safe from dangerous infections.
3. Reduce Pain and Soreness
Well known for its anti-pain properties, ginger works to deactivate your pain sensors so that they no longer send pain signals to your brain. The initial burning feeling you experience when you bite into ginger lasts only a second, but it affects your body’s pain pathways and reduces overall inflammation, which limits the long term pain you feel.
Ginger also has some well-studied benefits for reducing athletic pain. In one study, muscle pain was dramatically reduced for people that took two grams of ginger a day for 11 days, most likely because their levels of inflammation went down.
4. Lowers Blood Pressure
The research is still being conducted, but there is good evidence that ginger has some powerful potential to lower blood pressure. A 2015 study found that giving type 2 diabetes patients two grams of ginger powder every day managed to lower their blood pressure levels by 12%. The levels of HbA1c (a marker for blood sugar levels over the long term), also saw a 10% reduction in the same time frame.
5. Lower Cholesterol
The foods you eat have a strong impact on the levels of cholesterol in your body, and ginger is a powerful way to reduce those levels. Studies have shown that taking a few grams of ginger every day can lower the amount of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in your body and reduce your risk of heart disease.
6. Improves Brain Function
Chronic inflammation is a trigger for premature aging and can even be a cause of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of mental decline. However, the antioxidants in ginger have been shown to inhibit this inflammatory response, thereby preventing these age-related conditions from developing. Even better, ginger has been shown to enhance your level of brain function directly. Studies on middle-aged woman have shown that taking ginger can improve their reaction times and memory building abilities.
Easy Ways To Use Ginger
Because ginger is so naturally concentrated with potent chemicals, you don’t need much to receive its benefits. For this reason, ginger root can be enjoyed in a wide variety of forms, including teas, powders, capsules and even as a good old fashioned ingredient in your dinner. Ginger is commonly sold fresh, dried, powdered or as a juice or essential oil, and it is occasionally mixed into cosmetic products as well.
Some of the best ways to experience the benefits of ginger are listed below.
- Raw Ginger: Easy to peel and slice, a chunk of raw ginger can be added to a wide variety of foods, including smoothies, stir fries and homemade juice.
- Ginger Essential Oil: For the most potent form of this prized root, try it as an essential oil that can be applied topically to quickly reduce pain points throughout your body. All that’s needed are 2-3 drops to start getting the benefits of gingerol.
- Ginger Tea: Commonly used to relieve nausea, ginger tea works wonders to settle your stomach when you sip it two to three times a day. All you need to do is slice some fresh ginger and add it to a cup of steaming water. Adding a dose of raw honey or lemon juice works wonders to enhance the flavor even more. Best of all, ginger tea is a natural diaphoretic, meaning that it promotes perspiration and quickly warms you up when you drink it. For a simple alternative, you can use tea bags like these.
- Ginger Powder: Useful for cooking if you don’t want the inconvenience of peeling fresh, powdered ginger is an easy way to get the full benefits quickly. You can add powdered ginger to curries, soups and even desserts for a savory, sharp tasting twist.
- Ginger Supplements: As an easy way to get your recommended dose of 1,000 milligrams a day, ginger supplements are convenient and affordable.
How to Select and Store Ginger
It’s always best to choose fresh ginger over dried, both for the strongest flavor and the highest levels of gingerol. Fresh ginger can be found in most grocery stores, and will last for several weeks in your refrigerator. Make sure to choose firm, smooth roots without any mildew. Fresh ginger is usually sold in one of two forms: young and mature. Mature ginger is far more common and a little tough to peel, while young ginger is found more often in Asian grocery stores and rarely requires peeling.
When buying ginger as a powder or oil, it’s important to get it from a reputable source. Seek out ginger that is grown organically and not too old. The best way to ensure you get top quality is to purchase for supply from reputable sellers. Dried, powdered ginger should be stored in a tightly sealed place, away from sunlight and heat.
Easy Tips For Growing Ginger
If you prefer to forgo the supermarket and instead grow your ginger right from home, the process of growing ginger in containers is quite simple. Not only is ginger a low maintenance plant, it only needs partial sunlight and you can simply use parts of it at a time and leave the rest to continue growing.
The best strategy for planting ginger is to purchase it from a garden center or cataloger, not from the grocery store, as this form isn’t meant to be planted and will yield inconsistent results. Even worse, grocery store ginger is often sprayed with pesticides, herbicides and inhibitors that keep it from sprouting.
To grow your ginger root, soak it in water overnight before getting ready to plant. Next, fill a pot with rich, well-draining potting soil and stick the ginger root in with the eye bud pointing up. Cover the tip with two inches potting soil and water it in place well. Keep the pot in a warm place without too much sunlight and make sure that the soil stays moist. Because ginger is a slow grower, it might be several weeks before you start to see a sign of sprouts coming up.
After three to four months of growing, ginger is ready to be harvested. Push aside some of the potting soil until you see the beginning of the root underneath, and cut out the amount you need before re-covering the spot with soil. By harvesting this way, your ginger plant will continue to grow for as long as you take care of it.
Nature often provides the best remedies for us, and ginger is no exception. Add this potent root into your daily diet and your body will notice the difference. Reduced inflammation, lower risk of heart disease and a better memory are only some of the benefits that ginger will bring you, so pick up some medicinal ginger root today!