GINGER: ZINGIBER OFFICINALE
When you are feeling cold, somewhat lethargic and more than a bit fed up with the seemingly endless cold grey skies of an English winter, try pepping yourself up with a hot cup of ginger tea! With its rather amazing ability to stimulate the circulation, imbuing you with a warmth that extends from the tips of your fingers right down to your toes, while at the same time increasing your energy, lifting the spirits and enhancing your immunity, this is certainly a tea that reaches parts that other teas can’t. Simply cut a few slices of fresh ginger root and place them in a pan with a pint of cold water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes and drink. The amount of ginger root you use will depend on your taste. I normally slice a piece that is around the size of my thumb, but in any event you don’t want your tea to be so pungent that it burns your mouth as you swallow it, at the same time you don’t want it to be so weak that you do not benefit from its therapeutic properties.
This exotic spice with its hot, biting taste comes originally from the sunny climes of Southern Asia and is grown widely in tropical countries like India, Jamaica and Nigeria. Its amazing therapeutic properties have been well known all over the world the world for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the writings of Confucius as early as 500 BC and Chinese and Indian medical texts written 2000 years ago. Alexander the Great took ginger to Greece where Hippocrates and Dioscorides apparently recommended it for cooking, to calm and benefit the stomach and “against all darkness of the sight”. In India’s Ayurvedic medicine the pungent and warming properties of ginger have long been used to enhance the “fire” in the body, which is responsible for proper digestion, body heat, visual perception, hunger, thirst, the lustre of the skin, the light in the eyes, the clarity in the mind, intelligence, determination and courage. The early European herbalists recommended ginger as a cure for colds, digestive problems including colic and constipation, insomnia, snake bites, tooth ache, kidney problems, weak eyes, and to strengthen the heart. It is still highly popular as a medicine to this day.
It is ginger’s warming and stimulating properties that make it such as valuable medicine. By stimulating the heart and circulation, and enhancing blood flow throughout the body, it makes a great remedy for cold hands and feet, and to prevent chilblains and circulatory problems such as Raynaud’s disease. It is a wonderful warming aid to digestion, stimulating appetite and enhancing digestion and absorption of nutrients by encouraging secretion of digestive enzymes. It moves stagnation of undigested food and subsequent accumulation of toxins that can have a far reaching effect on our general state of health, our immunity and vitality. If you drink ginger tea, or chew little pieces of the root, fresh or crystallised, you will find that ginger settles the stomach, soothes indigestion and calms wind. Its pain relieving and relaxing effects in the gut relieve colic and spasm, and help to stop griping caused by diarrhoea or dysentery. Ginger is truly the best remedy for nausea, whether caused by travel sickness, pregnancy, anxiety, over eating or a stomach bug. This fact has long been known by sailors in the East where for centuries ginger preparations have been taken to keep sea sickness at bay during long voyages in stormy seas. It has recently been used with great success in hospitals for post-operative nausea. Ginger is also said to be a good cure for a hangover. Certainly if you chew some it will sweeten your breath, settle the stomach and dispel that heavy-headed, lethargic feeling that characterises the morning after the night before.
By stimulating the circulation, encouraging perspiration and enabling the digestive tract to eliminate toxins, ginger helps the body to fight off infection. The volatile oils that lend ginger its characteristic taste and smell are highly antiseptic, activating immunity and dispelling a whole variety of bacterial and viral infections. In the East ginger has been used for epidemics such as cholera. In China fresh ginger root has been shown to be highly effective in the treatment of acute bacillary dysentery. Closer to home, a hot cup of tea every winter’s morning not only invigorates mind and body but will help ward off the chills and ills of an English winter, such as colds, coughs and chest infections, sore throats and ‘flu.
The warming, stimulating and relaxing properties of ginger can be felt elsewhere in the body, including the reproductive system. By promoting menstruation ginger is good for delayed and scanty periods as well as to relieve period pain.. In many different parts of the world ginger has been recommended to invigorate the reproductive organs and to remedy infertility and impotence related to deficiency of vital warmth in the body. Not surprisingly it has an ancient reputation as an aphrodisiac and was considered excellent by the early Europeans for transforming frigid women into the type of enchantress that men apparently seek in their dreams! At the Medieval university of Salerno in Italy, the pioneering medical school promoted a prescription for a happy life in later years: “ Eat ginger and you will love and be loved as in your youth”. Gerard the 16th century English apothecary said that green (unripe) ginger is “provoking to venerie and lust”. In African countries they still drink ginger tea for its aphrodisiac properties while women in New Guinea eat the dried root as a contraceptive.
Modern research into the medicinal benefits of ginger have shown that ginger thins the blood and inhibits clotting, it lowers harmful cholesterol levels and reduces blood pressure. In times gone by you might have had to cover your forehead with a paste made with ginger powder and cold water to reduce your blood pressure. Today however regularly adding ginger to your cooking or drinking ginger tea may serve just as well and be more suited to our busy lives. Ginger has also been shown to have antioxidative properties, inhibiting free radicals in the body and thereby further aiding immunity, protecting the heart and circulation and promoting longevity. It has valuable detoxifying and anti-inflammatory properties and these combined with its analgesic effects can be very helpful in the treatment of rheumatism and arthritis.
While this thick, tuberous root may not look very attractive, its pungent rather lemony taste has made it one of the most popular culinary spices all over the world, enlivening otherwise rather bland dishes and transforming them into meals fit for a king or queen! It is said that because of its heavenly taste ginger was found growing in the garden of Eden and that in Medieval times it was served at the round table of King Arthur and his knights . According to the Koran as well, the menu served in Paradise includes ginger. The next time you are feeling down in the dumps, chilly and tired or that a cold is threatening, why not try a steaming hot cup of ginger tea a few times through the day and feel your mood and energy revive, and that stuffy feeling begin to clear…a touch of Paradise to refresh the spirits and make you feel alive.