Ginger is a root that is commonly used as a cooking spice or an herbal cold remedy. It is often associated with Asian cooking and the spicy, hot flavor that it adds to the cuisine. Although many medical uses of ginger have been suggested and studied, the results often vary from one person to the next. However, ginger is an herbal favorite since it warms the body to fight fevers and offers both digestive aid and anti-inflammatory benefits. Many people swear by the root and it's many additional health benefits when included in a regular diet.
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The ginger plant is a perennial, stalky plant that grows several feet tall and blooms with bright yellow flowers. It grows leafy, reed-like stalks that die annually and are then harvested for the rhizome, the underground "root stalk" of the ginger plant. The rhizome looks like a knobby, horizontal stem that has its own roots and grows underground. This is the valuable part of the the plant that is harvested for consumption.
Ginger is considered an herbal remedy in many cultures. Over the years, it has been used to reduce inflammation, help with digestion, improve cardiovascular health and even historically to ward off diseases like the plague. The rhizome can be sliced, chopped, minced or served fresh but will always carry the trademark "heat" that has made it a medicinal mystery. Historically, people used ginger to fight disease and cure a fever since people would sweat when they would eat the root. Although that helps, since it gets the metabolism racing and warms the body, we now realize that ginger offers additional medicinal benefits. Consumption of ginger helps with blood circulation and has anti-inflammatory qualities that ease arthritis and other body aches and pains. It increases the body's production of saliva and other digestive fluids, which relieves an upset stomach and supports healthy digestion. Speeding up digestion helps clean the kidneys and bowels to remove toxins from the body. It also helps ease morning sickness, nausea and motion sickness.
As one of the oldest spices known in Asia and Europe, ginger has a long history as a seasoning and was once as common as salt and pepper. People would add ginger to everything, including teas and beers that led to modern drinks like ginger ale and ginger beers. It continues to be a staple in Asian cuisine and many cultural dishes. The ginger root has also been an important ingredient to Chinese medicine and as an herbal cure-all. It was used to help people sweat out toxins and to get the blood moving to cure fevers, colds and other disease. Ginger was also known to ease an upset stomach and to relax cramps, so the plant was often added to hot teas and drank by women while in labor.
With its long history of cultivation, the ginger plant has taken on many different forms and the use of the spice often varies depending on the geography. Consumption began in Southeast Asia and India where ginger is often eaten raw and fresh. It is a staple in oriental cooking, often sliced with sushi, served over noodles and tofu, as a cooking spice, to accompany fish or even pickled for a spicy snack. Throughout Europe and the Caribbean islands, ginger is often dried or powdered to be used as a cooking spice or added to beverages for a spicy flavor: coffee and teas, liqueurs, wine and beer. Throughout the United States and in other Western cuisines, ginger is traditionally used in sweet foods: candied ginger, ginger ale, ginger snaps and ginger bread. The ginger root will always carry that similar hot, spicy flavor no matter how it's prepared, however, different cultures have different uses and preferences for the herb.
Ginger always has the same purpose, to be consumed, it's just the preparation that differs. Younger roots are cleaned and scraped to create white ginger, which is more commonly eaten raw and tends to be more potent and hot. Older roots are usually cooked and dried for teas and spices, this is a form of black ginger. Each kind will add spicy seasoning and herbal benefits whether raw, dried or cooked.