Ginger, a member of the Zingiberaceae family that also includes galangal and turmeric, is a creeping perennial native to tropical south-east Asia and cultivated in the West Indies and East Africa. It produces stout spikes of leaves that grow to a height of a metre or more, and fragrant yellow-green flowers tinged with purple. The aromatic, knotty rhizome and the essential oil distilled from it have been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for over 2000 years. Ginger oil is also a popular ingredient in perfumery.
Ginger contains volatile oil (including zingiberine, zingiberole, phellandrene, borneol, cineole and citral); phenols (gingeole, zingerone), shagaol, starch, mucilage, resin, and a possible alkaloid.
In feverish conditions ginger promotes perspiration. It is also used as an expectorant and to treat colds and chills. By stimulating the circulation and improving blood flow to the extremities by dilating the blood vessels, its warming action is of benefit to those suffering from cold hands and feet, Reynaud’s syndrome and chilblains.
Ginger encourages the flow of saliva and gastric juices and is a valuable remedy in the treatment of dyspepsia, flatulence and colic. It increases peristalsis and reduces intestinal muscle spasms. It may also be of benefit for cramping period pains.
Ginger is probably used most to treat nausea, from motion sickness and the morning sickness of pregnancy, to the unpleasant side-effects of chemotherapy.
Externally, ginger is the basis of many treatments for fibrositis and muscle injury.
Caution! High doses of ginger should be avoided if the stomach is already hot and over-stimulated, for example, if you have a stomach ulcer. It should be used with care during early pregnancy, although it can be safely taken in small doses (up to 1g dried root) for morning sickness. Those suffering with gallstones should avoid large amounts of ginger as it encourages the flow of bile. High doses are also to be avoided by those taking anticoagulant drugs such as warfarin. Ginger is unsuitable for very young children.