You have certainly encountered ginger’s succulent, spicy rhizome in the grocery store. Used fresh, or dried and powdered for a culinary spice, it flavors ginger ale, cakes, and cookies and is a major ingredient in curries and other Eastern cuisines. The Chinese scholar Confucius ate fresh ginger with every meal.
Since it was one of the earliest herbs transported in the spice trade, it is now difficult to determine if ginger originated in India or China. One ancient Indian trading city was named Shunthi, the Sanskrit name for ginger. Ginger has many applications in aromatherapy.
From 200 B.C.E. and continuing for a thousand years, Arab traders monopolized the ginger trade, carrying the root in sealed earthenware jars on camel caravans through Asia Minor or on boats sailing through the Arabian Sea to Egypt. Ginger was also used in ancient Greece, Rome, and even Britain before the Norman conquest. Spanish conquistadors introduced ginger to the West Indies. In the Philippines, ginger is used to fish with as it is believed to attract fish. It is also thought to drive out the evil spirits that cause disease. In Melanesia, men used it to win the affection of women; Arabs consider it an aphrodisiac that greatly increases energy.
Could St. Hildegarde of Bingen have known this in the twelfth century when she recommended its use for stimulating the vigor of older men married to young women? Or perhaps she was aware that its name comes from the same root as generate and beget, meaning to procreate? Because of such qualities, the word ginger has developed an informal meaning of liveliness and vigor.
Principal constituents of ginger: Gingerin, gingenol, gingerone, zingiberene, linalol, camphene, other alcohols and terpenes, with citral and resins
Scent of ginger: It smells peppery sharp, pungent, aromatic, and warm, sometimes with a camphoraceous or lemon note.
Therapeutic properties of ginger: Stimulates circulation, increases perspiration, relieves gas and pain, aids digestion
Uses for ginger: Ginger stimulates the appetite and relieves inflammation throughout the body. An ancient Ayurvedic remedy from India advises placing crushed ginger rhizome on the forehead for a headache. You can use this ancient headache treatment or a more simple, modern version by adding a few drops of ginger essential oil to water, soaking a cloth in it, and using it as a compress.
Also use a ginger compress wrapped around the neck or placed on the chest to ease sore throat or lung congestion. The smell of it alone will often open congested sinuses. If you experience nausea or motion sickness, inhale a drop placed on a hankie, eat a little candied ginger, or sip ginger ale, which contains a small amount of the essential oil. To relieve indigestion or menstrual cramps, rub a massage oil containing ginger into the skin on your abdomen or place a poultice made from the grated root on it.
In a warming liniment, ginger essential oil treats poor circulation and sore or cramped muscles, since it decreases the substances in the body that make muscles cramp. Drinking ginger tea made by boiling the fresh rhizome for about twenty minutes is a classic cold, cough, and fever treatment (try adding a little lemon juice, chopped garlic, maple syrup, and cayenne). Ginger tea can also be an energizing substitute for coffee in the mornings.