Ginger is one of the most popular and beloved spices of people throughout the world.
Whether it’s enjoyed in a spicy Indian curry, a crunchy Asian stir fry, or as a refreshing ginger ale on a hot day, the spicy, pungent, and woodsy flavor of this golden rhizome is as versatile as it is delicious.
But despite it’s culinary prowess, ginger’s greatest benefits lie in its medicinal properties, which range from calming digestive stress to preventing and fighting cancer and fortifying immunity.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), has used ginger for centuries to ignite health and fire up the body. Today, modern day research is beginning to explain what the ancients knew intuitively.
Today we’ll look at some of the most exciting new research surrounding ginger, including its antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties, plus tips on how to use most effectively based on your body type.
Ginger as medicine from an Eastern and Western perspective
Ginger, botanically known as Zingiber officinale, is a flowering plant in which the root (rhizome) is used for cooking and medicine.
It is in the same family as turmeric, cardamom, and galangal with a biting hot and spicy, yet refreshing flavor enhanced by warm and sweet undertones.
Over 115 phytochemicals have been identified in ginger, the most abundant of which (and most researched) is Gingerol1.
Traditional Chinese Medicine has always viewed ginger as medicine with a warming action on the stomach, lungs, and spleen.
It is relied upon heavily for digestive related conditions caused by Yang deficiency, but is also used as a Qi tonic to enhance circulation, clear phlegm from the lungs, and to treat inflammatory conditions like joint pain.
What is a Yang deficiency?
Yang represents action, expansion, heat, and function; whereas Yin represents rest, contraction, cold, and structure. Thus, a Yang deficiency is associated with a lack of efficient function or “pep” in an organ or system.
A couple examples of Yang deficiency include a lack of energy due to overworking, or poor digestion due to consumption of too many cold foods.
Ginger helps balance Yang deficiency by bringing heat to the body, which helps reignite that Yang fire that keeps everything functioning (or “firing”) optimally.
Ginger: antiviral ally for your lungs
When most Westerners think of ginger as medicine the first thing we think of is gingerale for a stomach ache.
However, what’s lesser-known is that ginger has demonstrated potent antiviral properties, particularly when it comes to ailments of the lungs.
A study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology showed that fresh, not dried ginger, was effective in blocking viral attachment to the lung mucosa to prevent the formation of plaque associated with RSV (respiratory syncytial virus)2.
Ginger has also been widely studied for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, both of which are believed to make it effective for reducing coughs and other unpleasant symptoms of upper respiratory infections3.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, ginger is used to help thin mucus and warm the body to to support the immune system in overcoming viral infections.
Ginger: antibacterial ally
Several studies have shown ginger’s antibacterial effects on a number of common bacterial pathogens 4.
A very important study showed ginger was effective in combating several strains of bacteria associated with sore throat, including Streptococcus mutans and Enterococcus faecalis.
Another study found ginger, when combined with garlic, effective against Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhi, and Bacillus subtilis, all of which are associated with gastrointestinal ailments5.
While further research has proven ginger’s effectiveness at fighting bacteria associated with periodontal disease6.
Ginger: anti-fungal ally
Fungal issues, such as athlete’s foot or Candida, are dependent upon dampness to thrive. Thus, in Traditional Chinese Medicine we recommend spicy, warming herbs, like ginger, to help dry up that dampness.
New research supports TCM theory on this, with studies showing ginger’s effectiveness on inhibiting Candida albicans7.
If left untreated, Candida overgrowth can cause issues like oral thrush, sore throats, digestive complaints, UTIs, sinus infections, inflammation, joint pain, and fatigue.
Ginger: your anti-inflammatory ally
So much of ginger’s medicinal effects can be traced back to its naturally-occurring antioxidants, which include: polyphenols, vitamin C, β carotene, flavonoids and tannins8.
Ginger’s powerful antioxidants have been shown to scavenge the free radicals which cause inflammation and create chronic inflammatory diseases, such as: heart disease9, arthritis10, diabetes11, certain cancers such as gastrointestinal and ovarian 12, as a cancer preventative 13, 14 IBD and colitis15, and pain16 (to name but a few).
Ginger’s even been proven to help suppress the expression of pro-inflammatory genes, which are believed to contribute to autoimmune conditions (pretty amazing, isn’t it?)17.
Ginger: your ultimate digestive health ally
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention ginger’s most infamous use as a digestive aid.
In the pioneer times, ginger beer or ginger water was drunk during the hot months of summer, as people believed it staved off dehydration better than plain water because it wouldn’t upset your stomach when taken in large amounts.
It has also been used throughout the world as a warming tea to help combat hypothermia.
In TCM, ginger is used to help fire up or reboot a digestive tract that has been bogged down by overeating, excessive cold foods, or too many expansive foods (such as sugar, caffeine, alcohol, raw foods, etc.).
How does this work exactly?
According to Traditional Chinese Dietary theory, any cold food or drink that enters the stomach (“cold” meaning below 100 degrees Fahrenheit) much be heated up to 100 degrees for optimal digestion.
Thus, excessive intake of cold foods can cause that Yang deficiency which results in sluggish digestion, a damp spleen (which affects the blood), weak triple burner (which impacts hormones), and other unpleasant side effects.
The natural warming power of ginger acts as a very effective digestive aid by increasing heat in the stomach, which naturally begins to balance out digestive function which improves the health of complementary organs and systems.
Modern research supports ginger’s use as a digestive aid, with studies validating its positive effects on conditions such as: nausea (including “morning sickness” in pregnancy), vomiting, diarrhea18, chemo-induced nausea19, irritable bowel disease 20, as a preventative for ulcers induced by NSAIDs, stress, H. Pylori, and alcohol use 21…and much more.
How to benefit form ginger based on your body type
As you can see, ginger is an incredible for the prevention of disease and maintenance of health. You can use it in many recipes such as those for soups, stews, sauces, desserts, beverages, and so much more. It is a fun herb to experiment with in your creative culinary pursuits.
However, it’s important to consult with your TCM practitioner (or other healthcare professional) before taking it in significant amounts.
The reason is, if your body/organs tend towards heat or you have excessive Yang, therapeutic amounts of ginger may not be the best choice for you at this time.
However, this is highly individual and not usually a concern if you’re planning on enjoying it in moderate amounts in our meals or beverages.
Ginger: herbal ally of the people
I chose this title because ginger truly is one of the most powerful herbal allies humankind has in its corner.
Not only is it readily available, affordable, and easy to grow, but it’s incredibly simple to take as a tea or added to your favorite dish, and can be relied upon (traditionally and scientifically) to help improve your health in nearly every way possible.
Enjoy with reverence!