Ginger is a true all-rounder: healing power and aroma combined in a single root. Find out everything about the effects and possible uses of ginger root.
Effects and uses of ginger
What would Southeast Asian cuisine be without ginger? The lemony, spicy aroma and fiery sharpness ensure a special taste experience. But ginger (Zingiber officinale) is not only a distinctive spice but also an extraordinary medicinal plant that relieves pain and inflammation.
Be it with some digestive problems such as a feeling of fullness or motion sickness: According to conventional medicine, a root has even grown against it. In addition, more and more studies indicate that ginger can be helpful for pain, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, obesity, and colds.
We present the effects of ginger and its many uses.
Part of traditional medicine
Ginger has always held a great fascination for us humans, as numerous old myths bear witness to. According to an Indian legend, the plant gives a man such strength that he is even able to tame the tiger and ride it.
The ginger family is an extraordinary family. In addition to ginger (Zingiber officinale), numerous other popular plants belong to it, such as turmeric and galangal. Like ginger, these two have also been an integral part of the spice cuisine and medicine of their home countries for thousands of years.
Although the leaves and flowers of the ginger plant are also used in traditional medicine and culinary art, the focus is clearly on the particularly aromatic ginger root. It is a subterranean rootstock (rhizome) from which the ginger plant draws its nourishment.
The shape of the rootstock also gave the plant its name. Because the Latin term Zingiber comes from the Sanskrit word “Sringavera”, which in turn means “provided with antlers”.
The origin of ginger
Ginger originally comes from South Asia and still thrives today primarily in subtropical and tropical regions. In India and China, ginger root was used as a spice long before written records existed and has been used as a strengthening and invigorating remedy for all kinds of ailments for at least 5,000 years.
About 2,000 years ago, the plant made its way from Asia as a coveted commodity to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who quickly became friends with it. Empires fell apart, but ginger is still very popular.
Arab traders controlled the ginger market for centuries. In the 13th and 14th centuries, a pound of ginger cost the same as a sheep. The root was therefore a real luxury item, which even the well-to-do people of northern countries like England did not want to do without.
The custom of flavoring sweets with ginger originated in the Middle Ages. Queen Elizabeth, I am credited with inventing the “gingerbread man,” a ginger-spiced gingerbread man that has since been popularly served on festive occasions. Thankfully, the root is now easily affordable so we can all benefit from its peppery flavor and overall healing powers.
The ingredients and active ingredients
According to a study at the University of Texas, chemical analyzes have so far identified more than 400 ingredients in ginger root. The pungent taste, for example, is due to gingerols and shogaols, which are among the main active ingredients. These pungent substances are contained in a viscous balm that contains e.g. consists of essential oil and resin acids.
A total of 6 pungent substances were identified in ginger. These act i.a. anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral and antioxidant; they also widen the blood vessels, so they stimulate blood circulation. The two pungent substances gingerol and shogaol dominate, which, according to a study at the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, can improve, reverse or even prevent chronic diseases.
If the ginger root is dried or boiled, new substances are created – especially from gingerols – so that the effect changes. This also explains why there are two different terms for fresh and dried ginger in India.
How drying and cooking change the components of ginger
When the ginger root is dried, gingerol is converted into shogaol. Laboratory studies have shown that 6-shogaol slows the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, fights fungi, and inhibits the spread of cancer cells (e.g. gastrointestinal tumors, breast, and liver cancer).
The substance Zingeron is also only created by drying or cooking the ginger root. He is responsible for the somewhat sweet note. According to the current state of research, Zingeron works e.g. Strongly anti-inflammatory, metabolism-regulating, anti-diabetic, and against diarrhea.
Better not to peel ginger
Many think that it is better to remove the skin from the ginger as it tastes a little bitter. From a health point of view, however, this does not make sense, since most of the active ingredients are hidden directly under the skin.
Ginger is a recognized medicinal plant
According to the State of the World’s Plants study, which involved 128 researchers from 12 countries, at least 30,000 plant species are used medicinally worldwide. However, only 16 percent of these are mentioned in recognized medical publications. Many of them are not even officially approved as medicinal plants.
Belonging to the healing minority, ginger has been classified as “Generally Recognized Medicinally” by the Herbal Medicinal Product Committee and was even named Medicinal Plant of the Year for 2018.
The medicinal properties of ginger
So far, a clearly proven effectiveness in humans only applies to the following areas of application:
- Prevention of motion sickness with nausea and vomiting
- Treatment of mild spasmodic gastrointestinal complaints
However, this does not mean that the ginger root cannot also be helpful for other complaints, but only that other effects have not yet been sufficiently substantiated by clinical studies or that the appropriate studies have simply not yet been carried out.
Ginger suppresses the feeling of hunger
A small study at Columbia University with 10 overweight men showed that those subjects who drank ginger tea (with ginger powder) felt less hungry than the control group, consequently ate less, and then still felt fuller.
Researchers also found increased thermogenesis, whereby excess energy is converted to heat through certain metabolic processes and then burned directly, which could also aid in weight loss.
Use ginger for type 2 diabetes
If you don’t manage to get overweight, insulin resistance and high blood pressure can develop in the long run. The combination of these factors is known as metabolic syndrome, which sometimes paves the way for diabetes and heart disease.
According to Chinese researchers, traditional remedies such as ginger offer a wide range of preventive and treatment options in this context. It has been documented that ginger counteracts hyperlipidemia (dyslipidemia), increased blood sugar levels, oxidative stress, and inflammation.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study enrolled 50 patients with type 2 diabetes, aged 20 to 60 years, who were not taking insulin. They took 3 grams of ginger powder or a placebo daily for 3 months. Blood values were checked at the beginning and end of the study and after a 12-hour fast.
It was found that giving ginger significantly improved patients’ health conditions such as insulin resistance and blood sugar levels.
Ginger protects against colds
The antibacterial ginger can protect you from infections and help you get through the winter healthy: the healing root warms you from the inside, promotes blood circulation, and thus strengthens your immune system – and not just by eating ginger or drinking ginger teas, but also through external applications.
There are two reasons why colds hit us more often in the cold season than in summer. On the one hand, the cold, dry air is a paradise for cold viruses. On the other hand, a cold has a negative effect on blood circulation in the body.
Cold feet with poor blood circulation are often the reason why bacteria and viruses have an easy time of it. A warming foot bath can work wonders. In 2018, 17 subjects took part in a study at the University of Tubingen. All of them were given three footbaths: the first with only warm water, the second with ginger, and the third with mustard.
Researchers found that both ginger and mustard warmed feet better than water alone. But only with the help of the ginger did the warming sensation last longer. For a warming ginger footbath, all you need is 70 grams of fresh, thinly sliced root to add to your footbath.
The ginger extract increases body temperature
It has been scientifically proven that women freeze faster than men. This has superficially hormonal causes. For example, the male hormone testosterone increases muscle mass in men. Since muscles constantly generate heat, which is distributed throughout the body, men have a larger heat reserve available.
In 2018, 6 healthy women who suffered from particularly cold-sensitive feet took part in a Japanese study. They received a drink with ginger extract (0.07 percent) or a placebo drink. The researchers found that the ginger drink increased body temperature for around 20 minutes.
On cold winter days, in particular, it can be a sensible preventive measure to use ginger extract or ginger tea to provide warmth and counteract the feeling of cold.
Ginger has an expectorant and anti-cough effect
Ginger also helps if a flu infection has already broken out. A cold is often accompanied by stubborn bronchial mucus, which has the task of keeping the mucous membranes moist and coughing up germs to remove them from the body.
The ginger root soothes the mucous membranes and at the same time acts as an expectorant. The expectorant effect is based on the fact that the mucus is greatly liquefied, which makes it much easier to cough it up.
How to prepare ginger water from fresh ginger
Ginger water is basically prepared in the same way as ginger tea. Only the ginger water is not drunk hot, but lukewarm or cold. Garnished with a few ice cubes and peppermint leaves, ginger water makes a wonderful summer drink. The indications such as digestive problems are the same as for ginger tea.
However, you can also chew a piece of ginger or add it to the blender with hot water, blend for ½ minute and drink the result (you may or may not strain it beforehand).
Ginger extracts such as ginger tincture (Zingiberis tinctura) or dry extracts in capsules are in circulation as medicinal and food supplements. They have the advantage that the ingredients are in a concentrated form so that a stronger effect can be achieved – e.g. B. in pain therapy.
Even people who don’t like the ginger taste or the sharpness can benefit from it. It also prevents the ginger flavor from being associated with the treatment of nausea and vomiting after recovery. No general statements can be made about the dosage. Therefore, always study the package leaflet.
Essential Ginger Oil
Essential ginger oil is very rich in active ingredients and is ideal for aromatherapy and for external applications such as compresses, massages, foot baths, and as a bath additive. A mixture of 5 drops of ginger oil and 10 milliliters of base oil (e.g. almond oil, avocado oil, or safflower oil) is enough for a compress against sore muscles or a relaxing abdominal massage. Studies have shown that aromatherapy with ginger oil is effective against nausea and vomiting. Simply vaporize 5 drops of ginger oil with water in an aroma lamp.
Dried and fresh ginger: the difference
Ginger that comes fresh to the market is harvested after just 8 months. It is therefore particularly tender and convincing with its refreshing citrus aroma. This is why fresh ginger is primarily used in the kitchen and when preparing drinks.
Ginger intended for drying is only harvested after 16 to 18 months. Dried ginger tastes sharper, sweeter, and tart due to the ingredients that are produced during the drying process. It is also known as spice ginger because the ginger powder is made from it.
Compared to the fresh root, dried ginger has a stronger digestive effect and is therefore e.g. B. preferable in gastrointestinal disorders such as indigestion or bloating.
Ginger in pregnancy
Institutions such as Commission E often advise pregnantly and breastfeeding women against herbal applications because of possible side effects. The fact is, however, that in Germany every second pregnant woman takes painkillers that are approved for the unborn child despite possible side effects and are diligently recommended.
As far as ginger is concerned, the warnings are based exclusively on the as yet unproven effectiveness in pregnancy vomiting and studies with rodents to which high-dose extracts (e.g. 2,000 milligrams per kilogram of body weight) were administered without side effects.
Although ginger is classified as highly effective and safe during pregnancy according to current studies, you should refrain from self-medication and seek medical advice, as each medication should be carefully considered.
First regional ginger from Austria
Ginger is a child of the tropics and subtropics and is also cultivated there. More than 3 million tons are harvested worldwide every year, the most important growing countries are Southeast Asia and Africa.
Although India is by far the largest producer with around 1,110,000 tons, it grows ginger primarily for its own use. China, on the other hand, is the most important exporter, with around 380,000 tons exported annually.
In Europe, ginger is generally only grown for private household use. However, efforts are already being made to bring native roots onto the market. The Austrian vegetable farmers Claudia and Gerald Kern in Seewinkel, Burgenland, used the region’s mild climate for the first cultivation of ginger. The courage was crowned with success: In October 2018, the very first Austrian ginger came onto the market.
Trials by the Bavarian State Institute for Viticulture and Horticulture (LWG) in Bamberg in 2018 also showed that ginger can definitely feel at home in Central Europe. Test engineer Birgit Rascher raves that you can’t get imported ginger this fresh in this country.
So it is by no means an illusion that regional ginger will be available more and more in the near future. The tropical plant could therefore soon score with a good ecological balance.
The type of ginger determines the taste
Depending on the variety and origin, ginger root has different quality characteristics. West African ginger tastes particularly hot due to its high oil content. Jamaica ginger, on the other hand, impresses with its wonderful aroma, and Malabar ginger with its very intense lemon-like taste.
In our latitudes, however, it is mainly Chinese ginger that is sold. It tastes flowery and exotic and has yellow flesh and round tubers. Lately, Peruvian ginger has also been increasingly offered, the taste is spicy and pungent, and the flesh is light-colored.
Contamination of ginger
Roots are generally less stressed compared to leaves and fruits. However, since ginger is primarily imported from China, you should exercise particular caution when it comes to pesticide contamination. Analyzes carried out by the Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Office in Stuttgart in 2017 showed that all 6 samples contained pesticide residues, 4 of which contained multiple residues.
In one sample, the statutory content was even exceeded. This was the insecticide clothianidin, which poses a risk to wild bees and honey bees, according to an opinion published in 2018 by the European Food Safety Authority. There is also evidence that the poison has a toxic effect on midges, which together with their larvae are the main food of many fish and birds and are therefore of great importance in the food chain.
Organic ginger is better
The Bavarian consumer advice center announced that most conventional goods come from China. But even Chinese organic ginger is often not convincing, because the complaint rate for exceeding the limit values for pesticides is relatively high. Chinese organic ginger is, on average, less contaminated with pesticides than conventional ginger.
You can also find ginger from Peru in supermarkets, the country has specialized in organic cultivation. Since Peruvian organic ginger is more expensive, many consumers prefer cheap ginger from China. This has already led to a reduction in the area under cultivation in Peru, so that the harvest in 2017 was around a third lower than in the previous year.
Grow your own ginger
When you grow your own ginger, you know full well that it’s pesticide-free. This is anything but witchcraft.
Choose one or more 5 to 10 cm pieces of organic ginger that are particularly plump and fresh and have at least one eye. You need the widest possible pot per ginger plant so that the rhizome can spread well.
You can start growing in spring. Cover the rhizome only about 2 centimeters high with nutrient-rich potting soil. After just a few weeks, the first sprout forms. The ginger plant needs a sunny spot, water that is as lime-free as possible, and should be fertilized a maximum of twice during the entire growth phase. When watering, make sure that the soil is not too wet to prevent mold growth.
You can then harvest your ginger root in the fall. Yellowing plant leaves show you the ideal time. Then carefully pull the rootstock out of the ground. Only young parts of the shoot are suitable for eating fresh, you can dry or grind the rest.
What to look out for when buying ginger
When buying fresh ginger, make sure that it has matt, shiny skin with no damage or mold. The flesh should be juicy and fiber-free.
For ginger powder, you should look at the ingredients list. It is crucial that the powder does not contain any additives and has a yellowish color. The white color could indicate bleaching of the ginger root prior to further processing.