The following article about ginger appeared in the October, 2013 issue of Natural Herbal Living Magazine.
Ginger Materia Medica
Common name: Ginger
Latin name: Zingiber officinale
Stimulant, warming, digestive, carminative, anti-emetic, anti-nausea, diaphoretic, febrifuge, immunostimulant, anti-inflammatory, anti-coagulant, anti-thrombotic, anti-cholesterol.
Ginger is among the most useful, most familiar, and tastiest of medicinal herbs. Because of its culinary use, most people have heard of it, and for the same reason, it is often on hand when other medicinal herbs are not. Western herbalism, traditional Chinese medicine, and Ayurveda all use it enthusiastically, and modern medicine has also begun to research it as well.
As a warming and stimulant herb, ginger stimulates the blood circulation. Externally, it can help treat numbness and sore muscles. For numbness, ginger decoction can also help. People whose extremities get numb or cold at night may benefit from a cup of ginger tea or infusion before bed, from soaking that part of the body in a ginger bath, or applying a ginger compress. Ginger is also an ideal drink to take when you’re spending time outdoors in the cold, playing in the snow or skiing, for example, or when you arrive home frozen on a cold fall evening or wintry day. The sixteenth century herbalist John Gerard writes, “Ginger is most impatient of the coldnesse of these our Northerne regions….” If you share ginger’s impatience with the cold, you should definitely take some!
Ginger helps the blood composition as well as its circulation. Specifically, ginger prevents platelets from clotting excessively. This quality allows it to prevent both clogged arteries and stroke. (It also means that you shouldn’t reach for the ginger when you have a cut, and you need to stop taking it at least one week before surgery, and wait for your surgeon’s okay before taking it again afterwards.) Researchers have compared its efficacy to that of aspirin and heparin. Ginger also helps to lower blood cholesterol, specifically triglycerides and LDLs (low-density lipoprotein, nicknamed “bad cholesterol”). In addition, ginger lowers blood pressure.
Ginger strengthens, stimulates, and regulates the digestion. It treats loose stools, constipation and discomfort, and regulates stomach acid. As a carminative, it relieves distension, pain, and flatulence. Ginger helps with gastritis and colic, and may also help with ulcers. In addition, ginger treats both nausea and vomiting. As if this weren’t enough, ginger can also treat poisoning, including food poisoning.
Ginger’s use for treating nausea in pregnancy is celebrated and has led to a few scientific studies, which indicate that it is safe and effective.
Interestingly, while ginger is safe for use in pregnancy, it can also help relieve cramping in menstruation. Not many remedies work for both menstruation and pregnancy, but ginger does.
People undergoing chemotherapy or radiation can also use ginger for nausea, and this use, too, is receiving scientific attention. The articles here are less uniform in their endorsements. Because ginger is also immunostimulant and anti-inflammatory, there is a plethora of reasons to consider including it when dealing with cancer.
Ginger stimulates the immune system as well as the circulatory and digestive systems. It helps the system fight off both viral and bacterial infections, and can also help prevent infection in the first place. Ginger helps throughout the cold and flu season, making it an excellent herb to take throughout the fall and winter.
Ginger helps with fevers as well as infections. In the language of traditional Chinese medicine, it helps to “release the exterior.” This means that it raises the temperature slightly, helping the temperature to fight off the infection the fever is there to fight, and then opens the pores to allow sweating. The fever goes away with the sweat.
Ginger helps with coughs, sore throats, laryngitis, and tonsillitis. An expectorant, it makes coughs more productive, while at the same time helping to clear the phlegm and to fight off the underlying condition. Ginger makes a marvelous honey infusion and a great addition to cough syrups.
While ginger is an excellent remedy all by itself, it can also make a worthwhile addition to an herbal formula; in combinations, it enhances the healing qualities of other herbs. Ginger’s use in treating poisoning applies to herbs as well, and it can both moderate and antidote the toxic effects of less safe herbs.
Common ways of preparing ginger include incorporating it into cooking, simmering it as a decoction, using it in syrups, preparing a honey infusion of ginger, and making ginger lemonade. Ginger lemonade is basically a ginger decoction with lime or lemon juice and honey added at the end.
Ginger is a blood-thinner, or anti-coagulant. It should not be combined with any pharmaceutical blood-thinner, such as heparin or warfarin, unless the patient is using it under professional supervision so as to taper off of the pharmaceutical. Because ginger is an anti-coagulant, it can cause excessive bleeding, so one should not take it when bleeding or within two weeks of surgery on either side.
Although ginger has a long history of use to treat nausea in pregnancy, and most practitioners regard it as safe for use in pregnancy, some practitioners warn against its use. Many women have used it throughout pregnancy, and still more have used it during first trimester, with generally excellent results, but caution may be helpful. Discuss it with your midwife, and if you decide to use it, try starting with a small amount and note how you respond.
As with all herbs, there is always the possibility of an allergic reaction or a sensitivity. People who find spicy food challenging to their digestive systems may experience that with ginger as well, although it is a digestive herb in general. A few people have reported eye, mouth, or skin irritation from ginger.
Finally, because ginger can lower blood pressure, people with low blood pressure should pay attention to any possible signs that it may be dipping too low. If this happens, licorice is a reliable aid for bringing the blood pressure back up. Drinking licorice tea or chewing on a stick of licorice root should resolve the problem, and combining ginger with licorice would be a good strategy for keeping the blood pressure stable.
For a detailed list of drugs that interact with ginger, please use the following reference:
If you don’t like the taste of ginger, you can use it topically instead. A towel or washcloth dipped in ginger decoction makes an excellent compress for sore muscles. An option for digestive help is to line the navel with a thin barrier of cloth or coconut oil, and then drop in a little ginger juice. In Chinese medicine, a thin slice of ginger may be placed over the navel as a base for moxibustion. Another option for people who don’t like the taste of ginger is to use a high dilution of the juice, i.e., a few drops of the juice in a large glass or bottle of water, sweetened with honey or maple syrup.
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This article is reprinted from the October issue of Natural Herbal Living Magazine.