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Health Corner: Kitchen Herbs – Ginger

Pratibha Shah
02/18/2009

Hi friends! Finally, warmer days are here. Hope you have been staying healthy. With this article, I am starting a series on Kitchen herbs, i.e., herbs easily available in our kitchen and which can be used for prevention or as a first aid in many conditions. I have chosen to start with ginger, as it is my favorite herb, especially in the winter season.

Ginger or Zingiber officinale (originated from the Sanskrit name for ginger – shringver, meaning shaped like the horn of a deer) is a perennial herb which grows from underground rhizomes (specialized stems). It is the rhizome part that we use and not the root. Although originally used in Asia, it is presently cultivated in India, China, Southeast Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. Many varieties of ginger can be found, but their properties are more or less the same. It can be procured easily at any grocery store.

Chemically ginger is made up of four main categories of chemicals –
•    The characteristic odor and flavor of ginger is caused by the volatile oils it contains namely zingerone, shogaols and gingerols. Research has proved that gingerols increase gastrointestinal movement, have analgesic (pain relieving), sedative, antipyretic (brings fever down) and antibacterial properties.
•    The warm spicy scent of the herb is because of the presence of essential oils like zingiberene.
•    Ginger is packed with nutrients like lipids, carbohydrates, proteins, minerals - Magnesium(12%), Potassium(9%), Phosphorus(5%), Calcium(2%); trace elements – Iron(5%), Zinc(3%); Vitamins – B-Complex, Vitamin C and it also has Fiber(2g/100g).
•    Numerous synergists like Zingibain (an enzyme) help in enhancing the medicinal effects of other herbs. Ginger also has anti-oxidant properties. Gingerol, capsaicin, cucurmin and limonene are among some of the other agents found in ginger and have a wide range of physiological effects.

In Ayurvedic texts, the constitutional properties ascribed to ginger are:
It is ‘hot’ in potency and is ‘light’ (when in powder form) or comparatively ‘heavy’ (when in fresh form) in digestion. It is a very beneficial herb, whether used fresh or in the dry powder form. Some of the most common and effective uses of ginger are listed below:

•    Ginger helps in kindling the appetite. Use of small pieces of ginger, mixed with saindhav lavan (rock salt), taken (to be sucked) before meals is a common healthy practice in India, but can also be used if there is a specific loss of appetite due to travel sickness, or some other reason. It also alleviates nausea, morning sickness and can be used before and during travel to prevent motion sickness. This effect has been supported by modern research.
•    A common lament of mothers is that my child does not eat. A very easy and effective remedy for this is 1tsp ginger juice mixed with 2-3tsps honey, to be given in ¼ tsp dose 3-4 times a day. This mixture should be prepared fresh every morning, and can be given for as many days as required, as it has no adverse effects, provided the child is not allergic or reactive to either of the ingredients. Ginger juice can be extracted by grating fresh ginger and then squeezing it.
•    The same ginger honey mixture is also a very good preventive mixture for a cold or cough that is just beginning. Adults can make more quantities of the same and use 1-2tsps several times in a day. For more severe onset symptoms, 2-3 pinches of black pepper can be thrown in.
•    Another way to use ginger for cough and cold is in the form of tea. Ginger tea not only soothes the irritated throat, it also helps in relieving the symptoms of gas and indigestion.
•    In Winter season, a morning massage with a few pinches of dry ginger powder, thrown into your favorite massage oil, will keep you warm and relaxed throughout the day. This formula is not for people with delicate skin though.  
•    Fresh ginger paste, warmed and applied to a swollen joint in Rheumatoid Arthritis or Osteoarthritis, is very effective in relieving pain and swelling.
•    For the above conditions, application and gentle massage of the affected area with dry ginger powder mixed with warm sesame seed oil or mustard oil also helps.
•    Sucking on ginger candy or ginger mixed with salt relieves hiccups.
•    In general fever, fresh ginger juice is given as an adjutant to the medicines. In fact, it is a very good carrier, which means it helps enhance the efficacy of other medicines and so is used in many diseases, along with the main course of medicines.
•    In chronic or periodic fever, use of dry ginger powder internally, helps break the cycle.
•    Ginger helps in alleviating general weakness, especially post delivery. ‘Sunthi pak’ (prepared by boiling ginger powder in milk) is generally used in this condition. This preparation is also beneficial in weakness related white discharge in females.
•    Use of ginger has a stimulatory effect on the heart and the circulatory system. Ginger is also a blood purifier.
•    Because of it’s ‘rasa’, ‘veerya’ and ‘vipaka’, ginger also has a mild aphrodisiac effect.
•    In general, ginger (fresh or dry powder) is very useful in treating all ‘vaat’ disorders like – arthritis, paralysis, tremors, convulsions, etc.

Ginger Candy:
Here is an easy recipe for making ginger candy. The kids will love it.
Dice ginger in the way you would like to make your candy. Take 1 cup of diced ginger in a non-stick pan (pre-greased mildly), add 2 cups of water and ½ cup of sugar (preferably brown) to it. Bring it to a boil and then let simmer at low heat until the water evaporates. While simmering, add a few drops of lemon juice. Keep turning the ginger occasionally, making sure it does not stick to the pan. Take off from heat, allow to cool for a while and then put them on wax paper and allow to dry. Yummy and healthy!!

You can also make ‘laddoos’ adding ginger powder to your usual recipe. Nourishing and prevents you from cold and cough. Gingerly taking your leave and will be back with another magic herb next time. Ciao!



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