The ginger plant originated in China, where it has long been used both to add a specific exotic taste and fragrance to foods and to enhance health in a variety of ways. Often labeled as an herb, most plant experts agree that the root (which is actually the rhizome) of the ginger plant that is harvested and used either medicinally or for culinary purposes should be categorized as a spice. However it is classified, ginger is not only one of the most distinctive and delicious spices used in cooking, but is a plant with very specific health benefits.
The effectiveness of ginger in treating stomach problems and especially nausea is well known. Nausea, whether it’s produced by motion sickness, pregnancy or chemotherapy, can be kept in check or overcome completely with the help of ginger capsules or ginger tea. Chewing on a piece of raw ginger is another method of ingesting this stomach-calming substance; even snacks such as crystalized ginger can provide relief from nausea.
The exact reason that ginger eases nausea is not known, but scientists theorize that there are certain properties in the root that influence the nervous system, the stomach and the intestines to help reduce or fight off nausea. And it’s not just for humans: a couple of ginger capsules given before a ride in the car will greatly reduce the chances that your sensitive dog will lose his or her lunch while on a trip. So the next time you suffer from even mild indigestion, try ginger instead of OTC medication for relief.
Ginger is also packed full of anti-inflammatory properties that can help the body in a several different ways. The stiffness and joint aches of osteoarthritis can be calmed by adding ginger to your diet, and if you are an avid exerciser, ginger is a great way to deal with sore muscles that result from an overzealous workout. Even the pain of menstrual cramps can be reduced by taking ginger, and this spice won’t ever upset your stomach the way anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen can.
If you don’t want to continually have to buy ginger root at the grocery store either because of cost or because you rarely know if what you are buying has been exposed to pesticides or other chemicals, it’s easy to grow your own.
Ginger root that you buy at the grocery store has usually been treated with a growth inhibiting substance, so it is a good idea to purchase your starter root at a natural foods store or from a catalogue. You will also need rich potting soil with good drainage and a wide shallow pot that will give the roots the room to grow horizontally. Follow these easy steps and have patience, since the slow-growing ginger will not produce visible shoots for several weeks.
• Soak the rhizome overnight in lukewarm water
• Plant in sections in the potted soil with the eye buds pointing up, then cover with one- to two inches of soil.
• Place pot in an area that is warm but shaded from direct sunlight.
• Water well and keep the pot damp using a spray bottle.
• You can begin harvesting fresh ginger after 3-4 months by scraping aside some of the soil in the pot to locate the rhizomes underneath the surface, cutting off a piece from one of them, and then replacing the soil.
You can continue to harvest ginger endlessly this way, but if you need more ginger, you can always uproot the entire plant, then replant some of the rhizomes to produce a whole new crop.