Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is one of the most widely used herbs in the world, in both cooking and for medicinal purposes.
This powerful herb is characterized by an astringent, unique taste and pungent smell that is often associated with Asian cuisine. However, its use in cooking and as a therapeutic herb stretches around the globe, far and wide .
Ginger is a powerful herb that is likely found in the medicine cabinet of most herbalists. Recently, western medicine has begun to recognize the use and benefit of the herb from a biomedical perspective. There are now hundreds of studies on the antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and nausea-reducing effects of ginger when consumed in food or as medicine.
In this article, we will give you a comprehensive overview of the history of ginger use around the world, the benefits of ginger for your health, and its nutritional profile. We will also provide you with tips on how to prepare ginger for both medicinal and food use.
A Brief History of Ginger
Ginger is a root spice that most likely has its origins in the forest regions of India and South Asia . The world’s largest producers of the spice are still found in this region. Indians and Chinese cultures have used ginger as a tonic root for over 5000 years, to treat ailments and as a flavoring agent .
Ginger arrived in the European continent when the Romans received it from Arab traders over 2000 years ago . At that point in history, ginger was extremely valuable; a pound was similar to the cost of a sheep. In the medieval ages, Europeans started to use it in sweets, and according to one study, “Queen Elizabeth I of England is credited with the invention of the gingerbread man, which became a popular Christmas treat” .
Other spices in the ginger family include cardamom and turmeric – both of which are also accredited with strong medicinal properties .
Today, ginger continues to be widely used in cuisine, in teas, and in therapeutic preparations.
- Gingerbread cookies
- Ginger ale
- Pumpkin pie
- Sweet and sour pork
- Asian stir-fry
- Ginger lassi
- Pickled ginger (Gari)
- Ginger soup
- Curry paste
- Tandoori chicken
- Gobi Sabju
- Crystallized ginger
- Ginger beer and
In addition to being used as a flavoring agent in plenty of foods, ginger also has several medicinal uses. In fact, ancient Chinese, Sanskrit, Greek, Roman, and Arabic texts all included sections that were dedicated to the discussion of the health uses of ginger .
- Stomach ache
- Painful menstrual periods
- Morning sickness
- Nausea and vomiting after surgery
- Muscle Pain
- Respiratory issues
- Liver injury
- High cholesterol and blood pressure
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Joint Pain
- Flu and colds
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble swallowing
There is mixed evidence on the effectiveness of these different uses so we will review the benefits with scientific backing in the following section.
The benefits of ginger are far and wide, and we now have ample evidence of its effectiveness for a range of ailments. Below is a review of the characteristics of ginger that make it so potent, and, in following, the different benefit of ginger against a range of ailments.
Characteristics and Properties
- Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties
Many signs of digestive and heart illnesses and even cancer cause chronic inflammation. Inflammation results from the activation of the body’s defense systems. In most cases, this reaction is very important to keep potentially dangerous illnesses from harming us. In other cases, when inflammation becomes chronic, it can be dangerous for our health.
Lab studies have shown that ginger is effective for reducing different inflammatory and thrombotic indicators . This is an important finding, as it explains how ginger can contribute to healthy cholesterol levels.
Other studies identified that the active ingredients in ginger – gingerols, shogaols, and paradols – all have properties that help to inhibit inflammation-causing factors [10, 11]. This can help prevent and slow the aggravation of a range of illnesses and conditions, as small as post-exercise muscle soreness, to allergies and arthritis and even liver cancer [12, 13, 14].
- Ginger has antibacterial properties
Ginger extract was utilized to examine the effects of ginger on different illness-causing agents. Studies have found that ginger has potent antimicrobial properties, where the growth of different types of bacteria were significantly reduced .
Studies have also shown that both fresh and dry ginger oil is effective against a range of bacteria . Ginger has the potential to inhibit growth of bacteria so that it doesn’t propagate as an infection .
Ginger can also inhibit the growth of certain strains of fungi. Some of the components that were identified in ginger to have antimicrobial properties include β-sesquiphellandrene, caryophyllene, zingiberene, α-farnesene, and ar-curcumin .
- Ginger has antioxidant properties
The name “antioxidant” is given to components that are able to neutralize free radicals – components that results from normal and abnormal chemical processes and can cause damage in our bodies if not controlled.
Ginger has a component called gingerol, which is mainly responsible for the antioxidant properties of the root. It is involved in biological pathways that combat cancer, cell death, and cytotoxic activities, while it may promote cell cycle regulation [19, 20, 21].
- Ginger has antiemetic properties
“Antiemetic” means that it can help to control nausea and vomiting. The nausea and vomiting may be caused by pregnancy, motion sickness, and side-effects from treatments, among others. Ginger has shown to have antiemetic properties. While the mechanism of action isn’t exactly known, it seems it has to do with the ability of components and ginger to inhibit serotonin receptors and can help to control nausea and vomiting caused by different factors that affect the gastrointestinal tract and nervous system .
The above properties and characteristics of ginger help to explain why ginger is effective to prevent and treat many of the health issues we will discuss below. Note that there is still relatively limited research available on the mechanisms of action and the effects of the use of ginger for different ailments.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that ginger is not effective for treating other illnesses and conditions other than those described below. Ancient medicinal practices have carried empirical knowledge of the use of ginger for centuries, precisely because cultures have been witness to their effectiveness . In other words, we shouldn’t necessarily limit the potential benefits of ginger to what current research has demonstrated.
- Ginger is effective against morning sickness in pregnancy
While ginger has been shown to be effective in treating many forms of nausea, it is shown to be most beneficial against morning sickness and nausea caused by hormone changes in pregnancy.
One study that involved over 1,200 women found that consuming between 1 and 1.5 grams of ginger during pregnancy can significantly reduce symptoms of nausea, though it may not reduce episodes of vomiting .
Other meta-studies have examined entire bodies of research to see if there is agreement among study results. One meta-study concluded that ginger is likely to be beneficial in reducing the episodes of vomiting and nausea during pregnancy . Additionally, researchers confirm that using ginger during pregnancy doesn’t bring risk of malformations, preterm birth, still, birth, or other issues .
Ginger has also been shown to be effective in people who experience nausea due to seasickness and chemotherapy, further highlighting its antiemetic properties .
It is important to note that ginger may not be a universally safe or appropriate choice for all women who have experienced vomiting and nausea during pregnancy, so it is important to consult with your gynecologist before using ginger to treat morning sickness .
- Ginger may reduce muscle pain and soreness after exercise
While there is only initial evidence on the effectiveness of ginger to improve muscle recovery after exercise, the available results are interesting. The anti-inflammatory properties of ginger mentioned above, in addition to ginger’s hypoalgesic effects, are likely the reason why it has been shown to be effective.
A 2010 study worked with 40 volunteers to see the effectiveness of both raw and heat-treated ginger on muscle pain caused by a repeated elbow exercise. The study found that consuming both raw and cooked ginger resulted in moderate-to-significant positive effects on muscle pain and recovery . These effects are likely seen at least a day after exercise .
- Ginger may reduce arthritis pain
Studies are limited, but a few studies have shown that ginger taken orally or applied topically may help with pain associated with osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis pain is, in part, caused by inflammation in the joints. In patients with osteoarthritis, taking ginger orally is shown to result in less pain and lower doses of medication . Moderate positive effects of ginger were demonstrated on pain due to arthritis in the knee . In fact, ginger may even be as effective as ibuprofen in reducing arthritis pain .
Additionally, a combination of ginger with other spices and salicylate made as a topical treatment has also been shown as effective against arthritis pain .
Unfortunately, most research designs have not allowed for the proper determination of study effects of ginger on osteoarthritis .
- Ginger may help control blood sugar
This is good news for people who have been diagnosed with metabolic issues like prediabetes and diabetes.
A study conducted in 2015 enrolled 41 participants with type 2 diabetes in a study to determine the effects of ginger on their blood sugar. The study found that ginger can help to lower fasting blood sugar (sugar in the blood after at least 8 hours after your last meal) by up to 12% .
While ginger should not be used to replace treatment of diabetes, the spice may help as a measure to improve secondary effects of type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders .
- Ginger may help lower LDL cholesterol levels
High LDL cholesterol can cause a range of heart and circulatory complications. High cholesterol can be caused by genetic factors, as well as by environmental factors, like diet.
A study carried out with 85 people with high LDL cholesterol were given 3 grams of ginger to take daily. After 45 days, they experienced significant reductions in LDL cholesterol . This is likely due to ginger’s anti-inflammatory and anti-lipidemic properties .
- Ginger may reduce menstrual cramps
Many women experience cramps before and during menstruation due to contractions of the uterine wall. As shown in the studies related to the effects of ginger on pain related to arthritis and muscle pain, ginger has the pain-reduction properties.
For generations, ginger and ginger tea has been recommended to women as a home remedy for menstrual pain. Now, we have access to some studies that demonstrate its effects scientifically.
While studies are limited, some demonstrate that ginger is as effective as some other pain treatments, such as mefenamic acid and ibuprofen, in reducing menstrual-related pain .
- Ginger may help treat chronic indigestion
Ginger has been popularly known to help reduce indigestion. Chronic indigestion is particularly bothersome, as it is recurrent, and not easily treated.
- Ginger may help fight infections
You may remember in the section about ginger’s properties we mentioned the spice’s potent antimicrobial properties.
This property is important for defending the body against infections caused by bacteria, viruses, and fungi. It may be particularly effective in the mouth, which is susceptible to bacteria that can cause bad breath, gum infections, and periodontitis .
One study shows the effectiveness of ginger in inhibiting the growth of Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria responsible for gastritis and stomach ulcers, among others .
Another study indicated that ginger may also fight against pathogenic bacteria that cause respiratory tract infections .
Ginger is composed of 86% carbohydrates, 8% fats, and 6% protein. Even so, about 80% of ginger’s weight is water .
That is not to say that it is a significant source of these macronutrients or of the vitamins and minerals we need.
5 1-in diameter slices (11g) only have 8.8 calories, 1% of our daily carbohydrate needs, and 1% of our fiber needs. It provides 0-1% of all vitamins and minerals .
Most people are not able to eat 5 slices of ginger at once because of its strong taste.
If ginger is so low in macronutrients and micronutrients, what makes ginger so beneficial for our health?
Ginger has a range of phytonutrients (plant nutrients), like gingerols, shogaols, and paradols, that all have powerful impacts on our health.
So, while ginger is not nutrient dense, it is a good complement to a balanced diet to get the added benefits of its phytonutrients.
How to Take/Eat Ginger
Ginger can be consumed in many forms. There are slight differences in their effects depending on whether the ginger is raw or processed, but overall the same properties are present in all forms.
You can make singer tea by simply peeling and slicing ginger and boiling it in water. Usually, about 2 tablespoons are enough for 2 cups of water. You can add honey and fresh lime juice to make it even more delicious. You can also purchase bags of ginger tea if you prefer, but it may not be as potent.
This is the most fun way to consume ginger. Feel free to experiment with ginger-infused recipes in the kitchen, especially those that contain lots of veggies, healthy fats, and whole grains. Remember that medicinal herbs and spices are most effective if they are consumed in conjunction with a balanced diet.
You can also purchase dried ginger in capsules. These are easy to take and will deliver a daily dose of ginger easily. This is a good option for you if you aren’t a fan of ginger’s taste, if you have trouble finding time to cook, or if you are taking ginger specifically for its medicinal properties.
Ginger is an ancient spice with an incomparable taste and versatile medicinal properties. It has been incorporated into local cuisines around the world, and it has also held a special place in the apothecaries of herbal healers in all corners of the earth.
Ginger has gained the attention of the biomedical world over the past several decades because of the positive effects the spice has on our health. In this article, we have summarized some of the health benefits of ginger as demonstrated by scientific studies.
However, it is important to give ancient herbal medicine its rightful place in the healing world as well. There are uses of ginger that may be effective, even if they aren’t studied.
Needless to say, it is always important to consult with your doctor or herbal healer before taking on an herbal regimen of any kind. Even though herbs and spices are “natural” they often have powerful medicinal properties that are just as, if not more, effective than prescribed chemical medicines. Remember, everyone is different, and it is important to acknowledge different bodies’ needs.