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Purslane - Ginger

Usha R. Palaniswamy

Ginger (Zinziber officinale, Zingiberaceae) is a plant native to South East Asia. For well over 5,000 years ginger has been prized as much for its medicinal properties as for its unique flavor and culinary value. References to ginger as a medicine and a spice appear in ancient Chinese and Sanskrit writings, and in surviving Persian, Arabic, Greek, and Roman texts and Medieval writings.

Ginger is grown widely throughout tropical Asia, Japan, the West Indies, South America, and western Africa. India is the world's largest ginger producer. Ginger is normally available in its fresh form and in its processed form as dried, black, white, or as preserved in syrup. Dried ginger is made by washing and drying the rhizomes while black ginger is prepared by scalding the rhizomes with water and drying them. In making white ginger, the outer layers of the rhizomes are peeled off before washing and drying a nd preserved ginger is made by peeling the rhizomes and boiling them in syrup.

Ginger is an important component of condiments, curries, pickles, flavored drinks and syrup. Ginger is popular since 1500s to this day in the West as a spice in Gingerbread and ginger ale. For more than 2,500 years, ginger has also played an important role in Asian medicine as a folk remedy to promote cleansing of the body, to stimulate the appetite, and cure motion sickness, morning sickness in pregnant women, and as a tonic. It is a tangy spice most commonly used in baking, cooking, and flavoring beverages.

Ginger is a perennial plant with rhizome (underground stem) and grows to 2 to 3 feet high, with erect stem above the ground bearing narrow lanceolate leaves that die down annually. The flowering stalk rises directly from the root, ending in an oblong scallop spike; from each spike a white or yellowish-green flowers streaked with purple and have an aromatic smell.

A number of chemical compounds have been isolated from ginger including gingerol, a ginger oleoresin (combination of volatile oils and resin) accounting for the characteristic aroma and its therapeutic properties. Components of gingerol (zingiberone, bisabolene, camphene, geranial, linalool and borneol) have been found to possess beneficial properties for the treatment of poor digestion, heartburn, vomiting and preventing motion sickness.

Indian Ayurvedic medicine uses ginger for digestive ailments, head aches, anorexia, diabetes, cholera, constipation, rheumatism and inflammation in liver (1-2). Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners have used ginger either alone or in combination with other herbs for over two centuries primarily for illness related to the gastrointestinal tract and inflammatory joint conditions. Ginger is frequently added to other herbal compounds to aid in digestion and increase the action of other herbs.

Ginger is a stimulant, a carminative and an anti-spasmodic alleviating nausea, vomiting and dizziness caused by motion sickness (3). Other conditions for which ginger may be used include: atherosclerosis, migraine headaches, rheumatoid arthritis, improve blood circulation, and as an effective gargle for sore throats. In addition to imparting flavor to the food Ginger provides potential health benefits inhibiting the lipid peroxidation (4) lowering blood cholesterol and sugar levels (5-6) and acts as a digestive stimulant (7). In addition, ginger is an effective antioxidant (8) and the compounds in ginger have the ability to suppress proliferation of human cancer cells via induction of apoptosis (9).

1. Aiyer and Kolammal, 1966. Pharmacognosy of Ayurvedic drugs, Trivandrum India, N. 3.
2. Kurup et al., 1979. Pharmacognosy of Ayurvedic drugs, Trivandrum, India, N. 10.
3. Ernst E. and Pittler MH, 2000. Efficacy of ginger for nausea and vomiting: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Br J Anaesth 84(3):367-371
4. Shobana S. and Naidu KA, 2000 Antioxidant activity of selected Indian spices. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 62:107-110
5. Singhal and Joshi, 1983 Glycemic and Cholesterolemic role of ginger and till. J Sci Res Plant Med 4(3):32-34.
6. Girij et al., 1984. Effect of ginger on serum cholesterol levels. Ind J Nutr Diet 21(2): 433-436.
7. Platel K. and Srinivasan K, 2000. Influence of dietary spices and their active principles on pancreatic digestive enzymes in albino rats. 44(1):42-46
8. Ahmed et al., 2000. Influence of dietary ginger (Zingiber officinales Rosc) on antioxidant defense system in rat: comparison with ascorbic acid. Indian J Exp Biol 38(6):604-606
9. Surh Y, 1999. Molecular mechanisms of chemopreventive effects of selected dietary and medicinal phenolic substances. Mutat Res 428(1-2):305-327

(Usha R. Palaniswamy is with the Asian American Studies Institute, School of Allied Health at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. )

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