Ginger: A Mighty Healing Herb

Adolfina Koroch, Science

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a tender and crawling plant that grows up to four feet high. Native of tropical Asia, ginger is widely cultivated in tropical regions around the world. It is commonly known as Jamaica ginger, African ginger, black ginger and ginger root. The underground stems (rhizomes) are popularly used as a spice, flavoring agent for gingerbread, cookies, ginger beer, candies, and in medicine. The taste and pungency of ginger is affected by the environment and also by the maturity of the rhizomes.

As a medicinal herb, ginger has been used since ancient times by the Chinese and in Ayurvedic medicine, a traditional medicine native to India. Traditionally, ginger has been used to treat a wide range of unrelated ailments such as nausea, diarrhea, stomach upset, arthritis, rheumatism, muscular aches and pains, sore throats and to guard intestinal parasites. In modern herbal medicine, ginger is used for digestive complaints such as nausea, indigestion, and lack of appetite. Ginger is used to relieve motion sickness, as an expectorant, and for chemotherapy induced nausea.

Currently, scientists and medical practitioners demonstrate great interest in the active components of ginger and in understanding the pharmacological actions of its constituents. Volatile and non volatile components are responsible for the aroma, pungency, and medicinal properties of ginger. The characteristic lemony aroma is due to the presence of a volatile chemical component known as citral, while other volatile components such as zingiberol contribute to the spicy aroma. The pungency is due to the non-volatile components gingerols and shogaols.

Scientific studies have shown that these chemicals are responsible for ginger’s anti-nausea effects, anti- inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, antimicrobial, antitusive, antipyretic, cardio-tonic, analgesic, and antioxidant properties. This unique combination of chemicals is responsible for the biological properties of ginger and explains its wide traditional and modern medicinal uses.

Ginger is generally considered a safe herbal medicine. Whether chewed or used to prepare infusions, fresh ginger rhizomes can alleviate common colds, flu, headaches, and sore throats. Keep fresh ginger in your refrigerator, particularly in winter months!

Any question about scientific ginger research should be directed to Dr. Adolfina Koroch at akoroch@bmcc.cuny.edu.