As a practitioner of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, I frequently employ both herbal medicine and Chinese food therapy in treating my patients. While both herbs and foods have inherent properties, herbs are considered to have stronger actions and are generally used as a supplement, while the effects of foods are somewhat weaker. There are a few exceptions, where an herb crosses the line and is also considered to be a food, which is the case with one of my favorites—ginger root.
Here are some interesting things to know about ginger and how to use it both as an herb and as a food:
- The overall property of ginger is that it’s warming. That doesn’t necessarily means that it’s spicy, but rather the net effect is that after eating ginger, your body will feel slightly warmer. Over time, if you eat or take ginger daily, your body may warm up considerably. Why is this important? It can help with chronic coldness, aches and pains that flare in the cold weather, and any other cold-related health issues.
- If you’re getting a cold or the flu, ginger may help you fight it off. Here’s the recipe: combine grated ginger root with chopped scallions in hot water or broth. Drink up, wrap up, and go to bed. The combination of the ginger and scallions will heat you up and will make you sweat a little, hopefully enough to sweat out your cold before it lays you up for the next week or so.
- Ginger is known for helping to reduce nausea. It’s been effectively used to treat morning sickness and nausea from chemotherapy. You can grate some ginger into hot water or look for powdered ginger in capsules at stores that carry common herbal supplements.
- Not only is ginger helpful for nausea, but it also warms your stomach and is used as a digestive aid. In this case, ginger grated into hot water works, but you can also eat a few pieces of candied ginger, ginger cookies, or pickled ginger after your meal.
- Do you like sushi? Have you ever wondered why it always comes with pickled ginger with your sushi? It’s delicious, but more importantly, it’s there because ginger can offset the toxicity of a bad piece of fish. Who knew? Furthermore, ginger is often used in some herbal formulas to balance out the effects of other mildly toxic herbs.
- Ginger can also be used to relieve the symptoms of food poisoning or dysentery. It ramps up the secretion of gastric juices, to help you digest your food more quickly. Doing so creates an unfriendly environment for any bacteria that might otherwise hang around and make you sick.
- In most cases, I peel the skin of the ginger root off and throw it away. However, in Chinese herbal medicine, the skin of the ginger root is useful, too. It’s used as a diuretic, which promotes urination as a way of reducing water swelling, also called edema.
You can eat ginger in a number of ways. Easiest is to grate it up into hot water and drink it as a tea. You can also cut it into small pieces or grate it into your favorite stir fry recipes. It can be baked into cookies—who doesn’t love ginger snaps? Or you can create a hearty winter meal by combining ginger with other warming foods like lamb, trout, chicken, shrimp, leeks, or onions.
Where to buy ginger root? Raw pieces of ginger should be easy to find in the produce section of your local grocery store. It will keep for several weeks in your refrigerator, but it freezes really well, too. It’s easy to pull it out of the freezer, run a little warm water on it and grate or chop away. You can also find pickled ginger in jars or candied ginger in the Asian food aisle of larger grocery stores. If you’re looking for powdered ginger, check in the spice aisle. For powdered ginger in capsules, look in the supplement section or your local health food store.