November 9th, 2011 by Chris Keenan
You’ve seen it in your local grocery store—that knotty, beige-colored root that looks somewhat like a cross between a turnip, a potato, and a carrot. But have you ever tried it, or even given it a second thought? The fact of the matter is, ginger root has been used for culinary and medicinal purposes for thousands of years, and it looks like this root plant is here to stay.
A Short History of Ginger
Although native to Southeast Asia, ginger root can be found sprouting all over the world. It can be found in the United States, India, China, and the tropics, to name but a few places where this root plant originates. As a spice, the use of ginger root dates back at least 4,400 years; as a medicinal herb, it ‘only’ dates back to the past 2,000 years. Similar to other plants that have long been known for their medicinal and nutritional value, such as the high-protein weed stinging nettles, and the common dandelion, the use of ginger likely stretches far back into prehistory.
The plant’s name, Ginger, has a variety of origins, from the Middle Earth (gingivere) as well as Sanskrit (srngaveram), which translates to “horn root.” Although ginger was well known by the Romans, the root and spice all but disappeared after the fall of the Roman Empire, not returning to popularity until Marco Polo visited the Far East.
Uses of Ginger
It was discovered some 2,000 years ago that ginger root contained several medicinal purposes and health benefits, some of which are still being practiced to this day. Often used as a means to treat digestive problems, relieve heartburn, or even alleviate symptoms of the common cold, ginger has many versatile uses.
Ginger as a Digestive Aid
Ginger has often been made (or used) as a digestive aid. It can either be taken in the form of tea or a supplement pill. The theory behind ginger as a digestive aid is that ginger root increases both saliva and stomach secretions. These actions both work hand-in-hand to sooth the digestive tract, providing no irritation whatsoever.
Ginger versus Nausea
One of the most well-known uses for ginger root is its capability to take the edge off nausea caused by an upset stomach, pregnancy, motion sickness, or chemotherapy treatments. Ginger works directly in the digestive system, going directly to the stomach to treat the problem rather than blocking messages to the brain like other anti-nausea medications.
Ginger as an Immune Booster
Ginger is a natural immune booster and is considered to be a “hot spice”—meaning that, when ingested, it quickly has a warming effect on the human body. Ever heard that old saying “you have to sweat it out?” Well, this is where that saying comes from. Consuming ginger causes the body to sweat. The sweat glands produce a compound which, in turn, protects the skin from infection. Ginger also induces healthy sweating, which is extremely helpful once you are inflicted with a cold or the flu!
Ginger as an Anti-Inflammatory Agent
Ginger has also been found to relieve arthritis-related joint pain. Ginger contains anti-inflammatory agents, which help reduce swelling around inflamed joints. Many people with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis seem to greatly benefit from consuming ginger.
Ginger as a Spice
There are so many health benefits that come from ginger that it is easy to forget that it’s also a spice used for cooking! Ginger can be used to add a spicy flavor to a dish or can be grated and brewed into tea. (As a historical side note, Queen Elizabeth I is credited for creating the gingerbread man, a popular Christmas treat.)
There are many uses for ginger, both as a cooking agent and a digestive agent. Not only does it benefit your health and your body, but it tastes good, too.
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