From ancient India and China to Greece and Rome, ginger was revered as both a medicinal and a culinary spice. Medieval Europeans traced this herb to the Garden of Eden, and it has long been valued by traditional healers. Today it’s used to quell nausea, and much more.
What it is
Renowned for its stomach-settling properties, ginger is native to parts of India and China, as well as Jamaica and other tropical areas. This warm-climate perennial is closely related to turmeric, and its roots are used for culinary and therapeutic purposes. As a spice, ginger adds a hot, lemony flavour for foods as disparate as roast pork and gingernut biscuits. Medicinally, it continues to play a major role in traditional healing.
What it does
For thousands of years, all around the globe, this pungent spice has been popular as a treatment for digestive problems ranging from mild indigestion and flatulence to nausea and vomiting. It’s also been helpful for relieving colds and arthritis. Modern research into ginger’s active ingredients confirms the effectiveness of many of these ancient remedies.
What can you do with a seasick sailor? The answer is: try ginger. In a Danish study, 40 naval cadets who took a gram of powdered ginger a day were much less likely to break out in a cold sweat and to vomit (these are classic symptoms of seasickness) than 39 others who took a placebo.
Because ginger works primarily in the digestive tract, boosting digestive fluids and neutralising aics, it may be a good medicinal alternative to anti-nausea drugs that can affect the central nervous system and cause grogginess. Studies of women undergoing exploratory surgery (laparoscopy) or major gynaecological surgery show that taking a gram of ginger before an operation can signficantly reduce post-operative nausea and vomiting, a common side effect of surgery medications anaesthesia. Ginger also appears to counter the nausea created by created by chemotherapy, though it’s best to take it with food to minimise any stomac irritation.
Ginger’s anti-nausea effects make it useful for reducing dizziness, a common problem in older patients, as well as for treating morning sickness. For years, ginger has been a staple of folk medicine, primarily as a digestive aid to counter stomach upset. Ginger supplements (or fresh pulp mixed with lime juice) are also a fine remedy for flatulence.
Ginger’s anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties may help to relieve the muscle aches and chronic pain associated with arthritis and other conditions. In a study of seven women with rheumatoid arthritis (an auto-immune disease characterised by severe inflammation), taking just 5-50 g of fresh ginger, or the equivalent dose in capsules of powdered ginger, lessened joint pain and inflammation. Its anti-inflammatory properties sugges that ginger may ease bronchial constriction due to allergies or colds.
- Alleviates nausea and dizziness.
- May relieve the pain and inflammation of arthritis.
- Eases muscle pain.
- Relieves allergies.
- Reduces flatulence.
- Fresh or dried root/Tea.
- Crystallised ginger.
How to take it
To prevent motion sickness, dizziness and nausea, reduce flatulence, and relieve chronic pain or rheumatoid arthritis: Take ginger up to three times a day, or every four hours as needed. The usual dose is 100-200 mg of the standardised extract in pill form; 1 or 2 g of fresh powdered ginger; or a 1 cm slice of fresh ginger root. Other preparations, including ginger tea (available in tea bags, or use 1 teaspoon of grated ginger root per cup of very hot water) or natural ginger ale (containg real ginger) can be used several times a day for similar purposes and for arthritis and pain relief. On trips, try crystallised ginger. A 2 cm square, about 5 mm thick, contains approximately 500 mg of ginger. For aching muscles: Rub several drops of ginger oil, mixed with 15 ml of almond oil or another neutral oil, on the sore areas. For allergy relief: Drink up to four cups of ginger tea a day as needed to reduce symptoms.
Guidelines for use
Take ginger capsules with fluid. If you’re trying to prevent motion sickness, have ginger three to four times before your departure, and then every four hours as needed, up to four times a day. For postoperative nausea, begin taking ginger the day before your operation, under your doctor’s supervision.
Possible side effects
Ginger is very safe for a broad range of complaints, whether it’s taken in a concentrated capsule form, eaten fresh, or sipped as a tea or as a ginger ale. Occasional heartburn seems to be the only documented side effect.
Ginger may relieve morning sickness during the first two months of pregnancy (up to 250 mg four times a day). Don’t use for longer than this, or take a higher dose, except under a doctor’s supervision.
Chemotherapy patients should not take ginger on an empty stomach because it can irritate the stomach lining.
Reminder: If you have a medical condition, talk to your doctor before taking supplements.