The herbal medicine Ginger, or Zingiber officinale is well known for it’s spicy, sharp flavour and is common in Indian and East Asian foods.
The herb grows well here in the Byron Bay area and is generally available fresh throughout Australia.
Uses For Ginger
The rhizome of the ginger plant is used for medicine and is indicated in a number of cases including
- Motion sickness
- Stimulating circulation
Ginger is also helpful in improving digestion. This includes bloating, gas, cramping. It is also a helpful addition when dealing with gastrointestinal infections. As written about previously the fresh rhizome is helpful when dealing with colds and the flu, especially when you catch it early.
The text Bioactive Food as Dietary Interventions for Liver and Gastrointestinal Disease has considerable information on ginger’s use in gastrointestinal conditions. It outlines ginger’s use as a digestive stimulant, use in healing gastric ulcers (possibly caused by Helicobacter pylori) the possibility that it could stimulate digestive enzymes as well as gastric emptying.
A very useful herb for people suffering from digestive issue in general.
The most interesting part of the same text (Dietary Interventions for Liver and Gastrointestinal Disease) went on to outline gingers use in cases of gastrointestinal parasites and dysbiosis. Interestingly ginger has been shown to be anthelmintic (kills worms) though this has yet to be fully validated. That said, the state of infection and/or dysbiotic imbalance leads to poor digestion and assimilation of nutrients. Any help from a digestive stimulant like ginger is much needed in these cases.
As the use of ginger in people with enteric pathogens has been shown to reduce diarrhea. The science is still unclear with some theories involving certain phytochemicals in ginger having the ability to reduce epithelial colonisation by some of the nastier bacterial pathogens/commensals including E. coli and Shigella.
Phytochemicals Found in Ginger
Many texts list the essential oil zingiberene in ginger as being the primary active constituent. Personally I have mixed feelings on reducing a herbal medicine that has been used for countless generations down to the single active constituent. I try to walk the line between scientific reductionism (shown by my love for peer reviewed science) and the vitalistic holism that has been the modus operandi of every traditional medicine that brought us this far.
Anyway that out of the way…ginger possesses a number of other phytochemicals including its pungent principles: gingerols and shogaols, and a whole range of additional essential/volatile oils.
Safety, Dosage and Cautions When Using Ginger
Stephen Buhner outlines the use of fresh ginger rhizome in his incredible text Herbal Antivirals. I’ve outlined his useful fresh ginger juice tea and keep some fresh ginger on hand at all times. If I wake up feeling something coming on I’ll make up a thermos full of the tea and sip on it throughout the day. Incredibly effective
Mills and Bone outline gingers safety profile in The Essential Guide to Herbal Medicine as follows
- 1.5-3g/day of fresh rhizome
- 0.7-2ml/day of a 1:2 liquid extract
- 1.7-5ml/day of a 1:5 tincture
They list that ginger is contraindicated in gallstones (meaning don’t take it!) as well as for morning sickness in pregnancy.
They list that use in pregnancy is debatable but advise against use in pregnancy. According to the text it is compatible with breastfeeding.
The last caution associated with gingers use as an herbal medicine involves those patients already taking blood-thinning drugs (warfarin, aspirin) Close supervision is needed here.
To summarise ginger is a reasonably safe, effective herbal medicine. It’s incredibly easy to grow in warmer climates like our beautiful Byron Bay area and much of northern, coastal Australia. It’s use shines in gastrointestinal cases as a digestive stimulant with possible antimicrobial and antiviral properties and it’s a beautiful plant too! What more can you ask for?
If you’ve had any experiences with Ginger as a medicinal plant share them below!
References and Resources
- Bioactive Food as Dietary Interventions for Liver and Gastrointestinal Disease
- The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety
- Principles and Practices of Phytotherapy
- Medical Herbalism