Last updated on June 13th, 2018 by Jadee Hao
Ginger is popular as an ingredient of curries in the East and of treats, like gingerbread, in the West.
It is a rhizome (root-like underground stem) that is light brown in color and looks bulbous with knobbly bumps.
When fresh, it has a pungent aroma and a fiery flavor and is a common ingredient in regional Asian cuisine.
Use it as a dry and powder form, it adds a sweet spice to breads, cakes, etc. You can also use this versatile herb on juices, salads and desserts.
But as much as ginger is a delicious source of zing in various recipes, perhaps more noteworthy is its medicinal use.
Ginger is numerous health benefits and now has scientific research to prove its worthiness.
This herb has been around since ancient civilization and used as a natural remedy in Asia and Africa for thousands of years. And now, scientists are working on researches that support and push the boundaries of its therapeutic use.
The Ginger Family
The ginger family, or Zingiberaceae, contains about 52 genera and more than 1,300 species. These herbs usually grow in humid areas of the tropics and subtropics. (1) Part of this family is Zingiber officinale, the spice we know in our kitchens as ginger.
Its cousins who are also kitchen mainstays are cardamom (some mispronounce it as cardamon), turmeric and galangal.
Cardamom, one of the most expensive spices in the world, is native to India and a common ingredient in Indian cooking.
As a spice, you can actually use both pods and seeds. It’s aromatic, peppery and citrusy. However, there is a limit to how much you can consume because it can be overpowering.
It is also popular in European and Middle Eastern cuisine, typically in breads and pastries.
Ayurvedic medicine uses Cardamom as a treatment for digestive issues, oral health problems, and even depression, among other health concerns. Some also consider this as an aphrodisiac (2).
Turmeric is most known for its mustard yellow color and as a spice in curry powders.
It has a warm, bitter flavor and a citrusy scent. For years, it has been used in Chinese and Indian medicine as an anti-inflammatory agent to treat numerous conditions, such as hemorrhage, bruises, toothache, flatulence, colic, jaundice, and menstrual difficulties (3).
Presently, there are clinical trials done to see the efficacy of ginger as a natural treatment for gastrointestinal tract problems, colitis, cancer, and Alzheimer and Huntington diseases (4).
Of these listed spice superstars, Galangal is the least popular in the global scene. But it is popular in Thailand (they call this Khaa in Thai) and South East Asian cuisine in general.
At first glance, it looks like ginger. But if you look closely, it is very different. It has tighter skin and lighter in color with pinkish portions.
It also tastes more like pepper than ginger (5). As a folk remedy, people use this as an antifungal, a hypotensive, and an enhancer of sperm count and motility.
Now, research shows that it also has antitumor and antidementia effects in studies using rodent models. (6)
Well, it looks like the medicinal power of ginger runs in the family!
Ginger in History
Ginger has a long history starting in China and India which dates back 5,000 years ago. People in these ancient civilizations use this herb as a natural remedy. Later on, it was exported to Rome and used as an ingredient for cooking.
When the Roman Empire fell, the Arabs seized control of the spice trade. Ginger became more expensive and was commonly imported in its preserved form to be used in sweets and treats. (7)
Around the 15th century, ginger gained popularity in the Caribbean and Africa as ships carried it across the seas.
Soon enough it spread throughout the world, farmers grow this in tropical lands. And Western countries also use this in their pantries.
Folklore says that gingerbread biscuits, a popular holiday treat, was first seen in the court of England’s Queen Elizabeth I.
What Are Health Benefits of Ginger?
Modern consumption of ginger ranges from exotic regional dishes like curries to carbonated drinks such as ginger ale.
And although ginger has been present in traditional medicine for millennia, modern science has been keeping up too.
There are numerous studies all over the world exploring further therapeutic uses of the humble ginger root.
1. Has multiple therapeutic properties
Ginger, an age-old popular herbal medicine, is receiving significant attention from the medical and scientific community regarding its potential therapeutic effects for the treatment and/or prevention of various diseases.
6-Gingerol, the major pharmacologically-active component of ginger, has shown in studies a variety of biological activities, including those that are anti-cancer, anti-inflammation, and anti-oxidation (8).
2. Boosts metabolism
You’ve probably seen them either on TV or in billboards, diet pills or “herbal” teas that will miraculously get rid of your body fat.
If that were true then all of us would have six pack abs. But the reality is these products are fallacy.
But ginger, time and time again is proven to burn fat.
I’m not saying that you don’t exercise because exercise is an integral part of weight loss but what I’m saying is ginger can enhance the weigh loss process.
Of course you’ll need to eat the right foods and exercise but what if you have an injury or you’re sick, it would be a bad idea to work out so ginger is a viable dietary option that you can consume to burn excess fat.
Dietary consumption of ginger can boost fat digestion and absorption in a high-fat diet.
It’s because ginger increases bile secretion and stimulates the activity of pancreatic lipase, and at the same time, facilitates energy expenditure to prevent the accumulation of absorbed fat (9).
3. Fights bacteria naturally
It is nature’s antibiotic. The Department of Life Sciences in the University of Buea in Africa investigated the antibacterial effect of ginger root extract on four respiratory tract pathogens, and found positive results. This indicated that ginger may indeed contain compounds with therapeutic activity (10).
Anothery study done at the Tai Solarin University of Education in Nigeria investigated the comparative effects of ginger and some antibiotics (chloramphenicol, ampicillin and tetracycline) against Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes.
Results show that that the ethanol extract of both the plant and root had the highest antibacterial activity of all. And is usable alongside conventional antibiotics to fight agents of infections.
This is very good news for developing countries in particular, where such infections are prevalent in the hospitals and cost-effectiveness is a huge factor in administration (11).
4. Fights bacterial diarrhea
Since ancient Chinese and Indian folks use ginger as a traditional medicine to treat gastrointestinal diseases, Taiwanese scientists did some studies and their findings reveal that a bioactive compound in ginger treats bacteria-triggered diarrhea – zingerone.
This molecule, which can be found even in crude homemade ginger extracts, work by binding to the toxin the bacteria release. In effect, zingerone prevents the toxin from being taken up by the gut (12).
5. Alleviates vomiting and nausea
There have been clinical trials that demonstrated ginger extract to be effectual in treating nausea in multiple settings and as effective as metoclopramide in reducing the symptoms of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV).
The reported potency of ginger could be from the bioactive compounds (i.e. gingerols, shogaols, zingiberene, zingerone, and paradol) found in the rhizome. (13) And in 2006, a meta-analysis of randomized trials evaluated the post-operative benefits of ginger and found it to be more effective than placebo (14).
In a randomized comparison by the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology of Thammasat Hospital in Thailand, ginger has shown to be as effective as dimenhydrinate (an over-the-counter antiemetic) in the treatment of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, and even has fewer side effects (15).
Furthermore, a review from the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, the leading resource for reviews in healthcare, has also concluded that ginger has positive effects in pregnancy-induced nausea and vomiting. (16)
6. Relieves symptoms caused by arthritis and osteoarthritis
A study done at the Miami Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the University of Miami concluded that the highly purified and standardized extract of 2 ginger species, Zingiber officinale and Alpinia galangal, was effective in reducing the symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee.
The safety profile was good, showing only mild GI adverse events (17).
In other research, the anti-inflammatory properties of ginger also demonstrated efficacy in treating rheumatoid arthritis when consumed on a daily basis (18).
7. Reduces pain and inflammation
For years Ayurvedic, Chinese and Tibb-Unani cultures use ginger as a traditional herbal medicine for various illness that involves inflammation.
Now modern research has supported such applications of ginger after the discovery that gingerols and shogaols, the major bioactive compounds of Zingiber officinale, possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
One study in India concluded that 6-shogaol and 10-gingerol have shown to be the most potent compounds, justifying the use of dry ginger as a traditional medicine (19).
8. Can lessen muscle soreness from exercise
Researchers at the University of Georgia have found that the daily consumption of ginger may attenuate muscle pain caused by exercise.
Patrick O’Connor, a professor in the College of Education’s Department of Kinesiology, led two studies exploring the effects of heat-treated ginger supplementation on muscle pain.
The studies showed that pain induced by eccentric exercise can be relieved by daily consumption of ginger, but also that heat-treating the ginger did not contribute any benefits (20).
9. Fights cancer cells
Ginger is a millennia-old remedy, but researchers are investigating a new use for it—it could possibly treat ovarian cancer.
The research done has only been in the very preliminary stages, but laboratory studies indicated that ginger caused ovarian cancer cells to die, stopped them from growing, and prevented them from becoming resistant to standard treatments.
The researchers used a standardized research grade powder form of ginger, but the powder form is somewhat similar to what is sold in the market (21).
Another type of cancer that ginger might be useful for is colorectal cancer. Because ginger has a direct anti-inflammatory effect in the gut, researchers at the University of Michigan believe that further trial is warranted to explore the preventive effect of ginger against the development of colon carcinogenesis (22).
10. Treats indigestion
Ginger aids indigestion or functional dyspepsia by accelerating gastric emptying and stimulating motility. This was concluded after a randomized double-blind investigation in Chang Gung University, Taiwan, using ginger capsules on twenty-four healthy volunteers (23).
11. Treats acid burn or reflux
The multi-billion “acid-blockers” industry has been facing flak about the drugs’ adverse side effects.
Acid blockers are used to treat GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease, also referred to as chronic severe heartburn.
Despite the drugs’ popularity, many report adverse health effects and say that they still continue to experience GERD symptoms even after taking the drug.
What are these health effects? To be more specific, these so-called “acid-blockers” literally block stomach acid production – this acid protects our stomach from infection and helps break down food to facilitate the absorption of nutrients.
Could ginger be the answer?
Research has shown that ginger has anti-ulcer and anti-Helicobacter plyori (bacteria commonly implicated in ulcers) capacities. It has potent antioxidant properties that protect lipids from rancidity and DNA damage.
Ginger also contains a proteolytic enzyme several hundred times more potent than the one found in papaya or papain.
This enzyme, which acid blockers deactivate, reduces the risk of infection inside the stomach. It also has broad spectrum antibacterial, antiviral and antiparasitic properties (24).
12. Reduces menstrual pain
Ibuprofen and mefenamic acid are the common allies of modern women against dysmenorrhea. A study has shown, however, that ginger is as effective as these two drugs in relieving menstrual pain.
In this clinical trial, some participants took 250 mg capsules of ginger rhizome powder four times a day for three days from the start of their menstrual period, while others received 250 mg mefenamic acid or 400 mg ibuprofen capsules on the same protocol.
At the end of the treatment, all participants experienced relief from the symptoms without significant differences between the medications. (25)
13. Can lower blood sugar levels
A study by researchers from the Tehran University of Medical Services, Iran, is exploring the possible role of ginger in alleviating the risk of some chronic complications of diabetes.
The conclusion is that ginger has anti-diabetic, hypolipidemic and anti-antioxidative properties.
Based on the study, ginger powder supplements seem to be able to improve fasting blood sugar, hemoglobin A1c, apolipoprotein B, apolipoprotein A-I, apolipoprotein B/apolipoprotein A-I and malondialdehyde in type 2 diabetic patients.
The side effects were also negligible, making ginger a good remedy for diabetic patients looking to reduce the risk of some secondary chronic complications (26).
14. Prevents non-alcoholic liver disease
One of the most common liver diseases is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or NAFLD. This happens when there is an accumulation of excess fat in the liver of people who drink little or no alcohol.
When fat accumulation is associated with liver cell inflammation and different degrees of scarring, then it becomes non-alcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH.
NASH is a potentially serious condition that may develop into cirrhosis, which may eventually require a liver transplant in some patients (27).
The prevalence of NAFLD is today is likely to reach epidemic proportions. It tends to develop in people who are overweight or obese or have diabetes.
And because insulin resistance is a common feature in those affected by NAFLD and NASH, and a preliminary study has found that insulin sensitivity could be improved using ginger, further research has been conducted by Dr. Amirhossein Sahebkar of Iran about the potential efficacy of ginger as a natural supplement for NAFLD.
The appeal of ginger for future clinical trials in this matter has been due to its longstanding reputation as a safe, tolerable, and low-priced medicinal herb (28).
15. Can lower blood cholesterol
Ginger is also effective in lowering cholesterol and other lipid levels. A study in 2 cardiac clinics in Iran has tested patients using powdered ginger versus placebo.
The results showed that the group taking ginger had significantly reduced levels of triglyceride, cholesterol, and low density lipoprotein over that of the group taking placebo (29).
16. Improves the brain’s cognitive function
Ginger is also a potential cognitive enhancer. Due to the role of oxidative stress-induced cognitive impairment, a study in Thailand has evaluated the effect of ginger extract on the cognitive function of middle-aged healthy women.
Participants were randomly assigned to receive daily doses of placebo or ginger for two months.
They were assessed for working memory and cognitive function using computerized battery tests.
After the testing period, ginger-treated groups have been found to exhibit enhanced working memory. It is supposed that this was caused by the antioxidants in ginger (30).
17. May prevent Alzheimer’s disease
Currently, there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease. However, researchers at the College of Public Hygiene of Guangxi Medical University in Guangxi, China, have conducted a study entitled “Protective effects of ginger root extract on Alzheimer disease-induced behavioral dysfunction in rats.”
This study aimed to see if ginger could prevent the behavioral effects of Alzheimer’s using a rat model. The team was rewarded with data indicating that the administration of ginger root extract not only prevents the symptoms but also reverses the behavioral dysfunction (31).
Meanwhile, another study is looking into employing ginger components in the development of anti-Alzheimer’s drugs (32).
18. Protects the body from brain toxicity
MSG, anyone? The controversy shrouding the use of MSG or monosodium glutamate as a common flavor enhancer does not escape many.
Although the FDA classifies this as a food ingredient that’s “generally recognized as safe”, there have been reports of it having adverse reactions to foods containing it.
One scientific study in Saudi Arabia that shows data indicating that ginger has a neuroprotective role against MSG-induced toxicity (33).
The results of this study showed that ginger root extracts have an antagonistic action on MSG, counteracting its negative effect on the monoamines in the brain, which are believed to be crucial in arousal, emotion and cognition (34).
19. Protects against radiation poisoning
There was a study in India to test the hydroalcoholic extract of ginger rhizome and its radioprotective effects
It was administered to mice, given orally once daily for some consecutive days before exposure to gamma-radiation.
The results showed that pretreatment of mice with ginger rhizome extract diminished the severity of symptoms of radiation sickness. It even reduced mortality as the number of survivors increased in the group pretreated with the extract compared to the group given only double-distilled water (35).
Dosage, Side Effects, and Interactions
Aside from using it in dishes, ginger also has has other forms of use – to be more specific, medicinal.
It may come in a 250 mg capsule form, usually taken for morning sickness 4 times a day. Bigger doses of 1-2 grams powdered ginger are given to patients about to undergo surgery (administered before the anesthesia) to relieve them of postoperative nausea and vomiting (36).
For other ailments, including arthritis, ginger is also available in the forms of extract, tincture, oils, and tea bags (37).
Ginger is generally safe for most people, although there some reported mild side effects. These include heartburn, diarrhea, and general stomach discomfort. It may also cause irritation when applied to the skin (38).
Some special precautions and warnings for pregnant women are the dangers of miscarriage (when used in the early stages of pregnancy) and the effect it may have on the fetal sex hormones. There are also concerns that it may increase the risk of bleeding, so experts advise against using it close to the delivery date.
Information about its effects on breastfeeding is not enough, so it is best to be on the safe side and not risk it (39).
Ginger may increase bleeding, lower the blood sugar, and worsen some heart conditions. It also interacts with some medications for blood clotting, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart diseases (40).
As always, it is best consult your healthcare provider before taking any form of ginger as a supplement or treatment.
Different Ways to Benefit from Ginger
Consuming fresh ginger isn’t enjoyable for everyone, but fortunately there are various ways to take advantage of its benefits, thanks to modern technology. One of my personal favorites is adding it to juice or smoothie recipes (more on that later below), as it adds that spicy zing to any drink.
Mature ginger possesses a strong flavor and aroma that might be too overwhelming for some. To have that milder taste, use ginger that’s been harvested at 5 months (41).
At this stage, ginger isn’t mature just yet. it has a tender pinkish flesh, bears thin skin, and gives a mild yet vibrant flavor.
This young ginger is what you get on the side when you order sushi, only it’s been pickled in sweet vinegar.
Research shows that gingerols, the major constituents of ginger, are found slightly higher in a fresh rhizome than in its dried form. On the other hand, shogaol, another potent constituent, is found in higher levels in dry than fresh ginger (42).
If you’re looking for a warmer and spicier flavor, choose a mature ginger. You can slice or grate it to include in your dishes or let it simmer to make hot tea. According to the researchers at the University of Georgia and Georgia State College and University, a few tablespoons of grated ginger will work to help ease muscle pain caused by exercise (43).
To store it, keep ginger in an airtight container away from heat and light. You can also freeze (and then thaw) it, if you just need the juice for later use (44).
Gingerbread or ginger tea may smell wonderful, but will probably not have enough ginger to be effective, says Dr. Roy Altman of the University of California, Los Angeles. However, a capsule that contains 255 mg of ginger is already equivalent to about a bushel of this root.
It’s very convenient to take, and even the finickiest eaters won’t have to deal with the flavor or aroma.
Lynda Brown and Bryan Vargo of Arthritis Foundation advise to initially try a 100- to 200-mg ginger capsule every day for 4 to 6 weeks to observe its effect on your body, upon the approval of your doctor (45). The regular dosage though, in whatever form, must not go over 4 grams a day (46).
Dr. Roberta Lee, Vice Chair of the Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, also says that ginger capsules bring greater benefits than other forms. The best products would be from brands that use the super-critical extraction method, because this produces the purest ginger and will be most effective.
She adds that it would be wise to take the capsules with food, since concentrated doses might upset the stomach (47).
Ginger Extract or Oil
The older ginger root gets, the higher the concentration of its essential oils are. So if you plan to extract the oil, it is best use a rhizome that’s been harvested at 9 months or longer (48). At this age, the root is pungent and bears a tough skin.
Ginger oil is the result of distilling fresh or dried ginger. Its consistency is thin, and the color is light yellow.
The main advantage of ginger oil over the other forms is that you can use it topically. In this manner, it can relieve gas (when applied over the abdomen), backache, arthritis, muscle pain, rheumatism, and fractures, as well as stimulate your circulatory system and revitalize your libido (when applied as a massage) (49).
2 or 3 drops of ginger oil may also be inhaled via diffuser, vaporizer, or good ol’ cotton ball or handkerchief to help relieve sinusitis, sore throat, runny nose, and energize your mind and body (50).
Aromatherapists use ginger essential oil to soothe away dizziness, stress, exhaustion and anxiety.
Click here to find out how you can make your own ginger oil infusion at home.
Ginger Powder (Make Tea, Poultice and Tincture)
Ginger powder is easy to store and has a shelf life that can last up to 2-3 years (51).
Aside from using it as a spice in cooking, you can add ginger powder to hot water to make ginger tea.
Add freshly boiled water to about 1/4 teaspoon of good quality ginger powder for a rejuvenating drink.
You can sweeten it with honey or sugar. For even greater convenience, you may now also simply grab ginger tea bags from your favorite grocer. But if you’re interested in making your own ginger powder, visit this site to learn how to do it the traditional Indian way.
Ginger powder can also make poultice.
This is a tried-and-tested traditional home remedy for body aches and pains.
Mix the powder with a little water to make a thick paste. Apply it over the affected area to form a thick coating. You will feel some heat from it. Once it dries, you may wash it off.
You can also make a tincture with ginger powder by mixing it with some alcohol. A tincture is a liquid extract that comes from a combination one or more herbs, to be taken orally. Go here to find out how to make one with ginger.
Adding ginger to juice recipes
Garrick here, since I love drinking juice, one of my favorite ways to consume veggies is through juicing because it is hands down one of the best ways (blending is another way) of consuming them fresh.
This is true for ginger since I doubt that you’ll be able to consume a thumb of ginger just by chewing.
Here are some great ginger juice recipes that you can try at home. Remember all of these recipes will have a spicy kick to it but it’s a good replacement to caffeine if you’re looking for something to replace it.
Recipe 1 – Kale Spice
- A small thumb of ginger root
- 2 Kale leaves
- 1 apple
- 1 cucumber
- Half a lemon
Recipe 2 – Red Spicy
- 1 whole beet – include the stem and leaves if possible
- A small carrot
- 1 medium cucumber
- Half to a whole inch ginger root
Recipe 3 – Turmeric Anti-Inflammation Juice
I found this recipe at the Whole Foods Explorer blog and it contains the following ingredients:
- 2 lemons
- 5 celery sticks
- 1 apple (medium to large)
- 2 medium or 4 small carrots
- 6 medium pieces of turmeric
- 1 inch of ginger
- 5 sprigs of mint (or a handful of cilantro)
Prepping for a juice recipe can take 15 to 30 minutes (depending on what you’ll put in) and sometimes we simply don’t have time for that that’s why these recipes are great. These are easy to prepare but still nutritious.
Ginger + Lemon + Cayenne
- Half an inch of ginger root
- A pinch of cayenne
- One whole lemon (if it’s organic there’s no need to peel)
This recipe is not for the faint of heart as it packs a lot of heat. Between the cayenne and ginger there is a lot of heat in this juice. Not only is this juice hot, it’s healthy as well, particularly to your gut.
Both ginger and lemon contain compounds that help with our digestion. Lemon water in particular in the morning helps in stimulating the gut to produce bile – a substance that our digestive system needs to flush away toxins and waste.
If you want to sweeten this, you can add a bit of honey or liquid stevia.
Ginger + Orange + Turmeric + Honey
- Half to a whole inch of ginger root
- One whole orange peeled
- Half an inch of fresh turmeric
- One to two tablespoons of honey
Unlike the first recipe with cayenne, this recipe is a bit more sweet thanks to the orange and honey. Turmeric is a close relative to ginger and is a known anti-inflammatory remedy. In fact, folks use this for such in Ancient China and India.
Ginger + Lemon + Garlic
- A quarter pound of ginger
- 3 lemons
- A head of garlic
I found this recipe here and is similar to the first recipe but instead of cayenne, a head of garlic is used. According to Sherry this will yield roughly 8 ounces (or roughly 8 shots). You can serve this to your guests.