Thursday, May 8, 2014
Also known as: Canada snakeroot, Indian ginger, Vermont snakeroot
Parts used: Root
Meridians/Organs effected: heart, spleen, lungs, kidneys, stomach, digestive, structural, circulatory
Properties: stimulant, carminative, antispasmodic, antitussive, expectorant, emmenogogue, aromatic, diaphoretic, analgesic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, aphrodisiac, antibacterial, antiviral, antiemetic
Ginger is a member of the Zingiberaceae family along with turmeric and cardamom. It is a reed-like plant that can get up to 5 feet tall with thick, branching roots. The stems have narrow, pointed leaved that get up to 6 inches long. Ginger has an erect flower on a cone-shaped spike with overlapping bracts that are yellow green when they start and then turn a beautiful purple-yellow. Wild ginger (which is not related) is similar in taste and use but looks entirely different. Wild ginger is milder than the commercial ginger and the leaves of wild ginger (which are heart shaped) can be utilized as well. The flower of wild ginger is often the first part of the plant to appear and hides underneath the leaves as the plant grows.
Ginger dates back over 6000 years with early migrations of people bringing it from southern China across the Pacific to New Zealand and Easter Island. The Arabs considered ginger so valuable that they would purposely mislead traders and/or rivals looking for the plant to some fictional location. The Romans also considered it a valuable commodity and as such placed a tax upon it (200 AD). About that same time the Chinese were using a lot of it in their various herbal preparations. The Romans are responsible for bringing ginger to northern Europe, Marco Polo spoke of it in his travels as well. It was the Europeans who brought ginger to the American continent where it has become a very important crop, particularly in Jamaica, which is considered to produce some of the finest ginger in the world. Ginger is now grown all over the world, including here in the usa.
Ginger has been used for millennia in Asian cultures as both a medicine and a food. The Chinese prescribed it as a tonic for the heart and to help with head congestion; they also used it for colds and flu, rheumatism, muscle tension and headaches. Dioscorides used it as a stomachic and a stimulant for digestion. The Romans used it for cataracts and other eye complaints; a preparation of ginger was made and applied to the eyes daily. Hildegarde of Bingen also used it for eye disorders, stomach complaints and as a tonic. She also said it was an aphrodisiac. Ginger was used during the Middle Ages to protect one from the 'Black Death' and the natives of the Pacific Island of Dohu would chew the root and spit it into burns and wounds. The Greeks used it as an antidote to poisoning and to treat stomach disorders. There is even a story of fishermen chewing ginger root and spitting it into the winds to make the storms go away. (There were fishermen who swore this worked).
Ginger essential oil is made from the distillation of the roots. The oil is yellowish and aromatic. The Europeans have used the oil for respiratory conditions, menstrual cramps, jet lag, sore throats, digestive issues, motion sickness, fevers, tonsillitis, diarrhea, colic, etc. It has been used topically for sprains, arthritis, muscle spasms (especially in the lower back) and it also helps with varicose veins as it stimulates circulation and increases blood flow.
One of the things that most people don't know about ginger is that it can rival codeine when it comes to its antitussive (anti-cough) capabilities. It is a strong expectorant and antihistamine, allowing the body to move mucus up and out of the system. Ginger stimulates the immune system, reduces inflammation, and helps to relieve pain. It has been used in many countries as part of a treatment for malaria. Perhaps one of the most well-known uses is for motion sickness and nausea. A study published in the Lancet in 1982 showed that two capsules of ginger were more effective than 100 mg of dramamine. The fresh juice of ginger has been found to reduce glucose levels in test animals so may also prove useful for those with hypoglycemia.
A decoction of wild ginger was used as a contraceptive for women and the leaf tea was used to cleanse the skin when one suffered from measles, chicken pox, acne and rashes. Wild ginger also contains aristolochic acid which is an anti-tumor compound. Pretty interesting to note considering the these two gingers are not related at all.
Dr. Christopher used it quite often for all kinds of stomach complaints and Jethro Kloss said it was great for gout, bronchitis, cholera and paralysis of the tongue. It has been found effective for heart disease, strokes, athlete's foot, migraines, infertility, tendonitis, sciatica, Raynaud's disease, bursitis, erectile problems, chronic fatigue and kidney stones.
Pregnant women should not use this since it can stimulate menstruation.
As is common with my posts, I am including some links herein for your benefit. Use them as you deem appropriate.