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Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

From ancient India and China to Greece and Rome, ginger was revered as both a medicinal and a culinary spice.  Medieval Europeans traced this herb to the Garden of Eden, and it has long been valued by traditional healers.  Today, it's used to quell nausea, and much more.

What it is?

Renowned for its stomach-settling properties, ginger is native to parts of India and China, as well as Jamaica and other tropical areas.  This warm-climate perennial is closely related to turmeric, and its roots are used for culinary and therapeutic purposes.  As a spice, ginger adds a hot, lemony flavor to foods as disparate as roast port and gingernut biscuits.  Medicinally, it continues to play a major role in traditional healing.

What it does?

For thousands of years, all around the globe, this pungent spice has been popular as a treatment for digestive problems ranging from mild indigestion and flatulence to nausea and vomiting.  It's also been helpful for relieving colds and arthritis.  Modern research into ginger's active ingredients confirms the effectiveness of many of these ancient remedies.

Major Benefits

What can you do with a seasick sailor?  The answer is: try ginger.  In a Danish study, 40 naval cadets who took a gram of powdered ginger a day were much less likely to break out in a cold sweat and to vomit (these are classic symptoms of seasickness) than 39 others who took a placebo.

Because ginger works primarily in the digestive tract, boosting digestive fluids and neutralizing acids, it may be a good medical alternative to anti-nausea drugs that can affect the central nervous system and cause grogginess.  Studies of women undergoing exploratory surgery (laproscopy) or major gynaecological surgery show that taking a gram of ginger before an operation can significantly reduce post-operative nausea and vomiting, a common side effect of surgery medications and anaesthesia.  Ginger also appears to counter the nausea created by chemotherapy, though it's best to take it with food to minimize any stomach irritation.

Ginger's anti-nausea effects make it useful for reducing dizziness, a common problem in older patients, as well as for treating morning sickness.  For years, ginger has been a staple for folk medicine, primarily as a digestive aid to counter stomach upset.  Ginger supplements (or fresh pulp mixed with lime juice) are also a fine remedy for flatulence.

Additional Benefits

Ginger's anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties may help to relieve the muscle aches and chronic pain associated with arthritis and other conditions.  In a study of seven women with rheumatoid arthritis (an auto-immune disease characterized by severe inflammation), taking just 5-50 g of fresh ginger, or the equivalent dose in capsules of powdered ginger, lessened joint pain and inflammation.  Its anti-inflammatory properties suggest that ginger may ease bronchial constriction due to allergies or colds.

Common Uses

  • Alleviates nausea and dizziness.
  • May relieve the pain and inflammation of arthritis.
  • Eases muscle aches.
  • Relieves allergies.
  • Reduces flatulence.


  • Capsule.
  • Tablet.
  • Soft gel.
  • Powder.
  • Oil.
  • Tincture.
  • Liquid.
  • Fresh or dried root/tea.
  • Crystallized ginger.


  • Ginger may relieve morning sickness during the first two months of pregnancy (up to 250 mg four times a day).  Don't use for longer than this, or take a higher dose, except under a doctor's supervision.
  • Chemotherapy patients should not take ginger on an empty stomach because it can irritate the stomach lining.
  • Reminder:  If you have a medical condition, talk to your doctor before taking supplements.

How to take it?


To prevent motion sickness, dizziness and nausea, reduce flatulence, and relieve chronic pain or rheumatoid arthritis:  Take ginger up to three times a day, or every four hours as needed.  The usual dose is 100-200 mg of the standardized extract in pill form; 1 or 2 g of fresh powdered ginger; or a 1 cm slice of fresh ginger root.  Other preparations, including ginger tea (available in tea bags, or use 1 teaspoon of grated ginger root per cup of very hot water) or natural ginger ale (containing real ginger) can be used several times a day for similar purposes and for arthritis and pain relief.  On trips, try crystallized ginger.  A 2 cm square, about 5 mm thick, contains approximately 500 mg of ginger.
For aching muscles:  Rub several drops of ginger oil, mixed with 15 ml of almond oil or another neutral oil, on the sore areas.
For allergy relief:  Drink up to four cups of ginger tea a day as needed to reduce symptoms.

Guidelines for use:

Take ginger capsules with fluid.  If you're trying to prevent motion sickness, have ginger three or four hours before your departure, and then every four hours as needed, up to four times a day.  For postoperative nausea, begin taking ginger the day before your operation, under your doctor's supervision.

Possible side effects

Ginger is very safe for a broad range of complaints, whether it's taken in a concentrated capsule form, eaten fresh, or sipped as a tea or as ginger ale.  Occasional heartburn seems to be the only documented side effect.

Facts and Tips

  • The ancient Greeks so prized ginger for digestion that they mixed it into their bread.  Thus was born the first gingerbread.
  • Ginger beer – a forerunner of today's ginger ale – is a traditional remedy for an upset stomach.
  • For colds or flu, many folk healers recommend chewing fresh ginger, drinking ginger tea, or squeezing the juice from ginger root into a spoonful of honey.  All may help to ease aches and chest tightness associated with these infections.

Shopping Hints

  • Buy ginger supplements standardized to contain 'pungent compounds'.  These consist of gingerols and shogaols – the active ingredients that give ginger its healing properties.
  • Look for natural ginger ales made from real ginger: a 250 ml glass contains about a gram of ginger.  Most widely distributed commercial ginger ales have only tiny amounts of ginger or ginger flavouring, with no therapeutic benefits.

Did you know?

A cup of ginger tea contains the equivalent of about 250 mg of the powdered herb.  A heavily spiced Chinese or Indian ginger dish has about twice that amount.