As the seasons start to change, the days get shorter and the nights get colder. Time to round up your favorite winter staples: A stockpile of logs to fuel evenings in front of the fire; a steaming Crock-Pot to prepare hearty soups and stews; a set of oversize mugs to fill with piping hot cocoa. Another winter staple you should add to your list of seasonal must-haves? Ginger.
Ginger is the perfect herbal medicine to have around during the winter. While it’s most famous for treating indigestion and nausea, ginger may also act as a decongestant and has long been used to improve cold weather imbalances including poor circulation, arthritic pain and more—it’s no wonder its Sanskrit name, vishwa bhesaj, means “universal medicine.”
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Health Benefits of Ginger
Native to Asia, ginger is a gorgeous tropical plant that has been used as a culinary spice for more than 4,000 years. But ginger’s transformational qualities extend well beyond the kitchen—it’s also a medicinal superstar. Wonderfully warming and mildly stimulating, ginger appears to benefit the circulatory system in several ways. As a potent anticoagulant, fine ginger powder may lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, according to researchers at Babol University of Medical Sciences. Having low LDL levels can enhance blood flow, improving the delivery of vitamins, minerals and oxygen to the body. Other research suggests ginger consumption may boost lipid metabolism, and that ginger could help prevent coronary heart disease through antiplatelet therapy without the potential side effects of aspirin. Flavor foods with ginger powder or sip a cup of hot ginger tea to help blood flow.
Thanks to its warming properties, ginger is also frequently used to reduce inflammation and relax sore muscles. One human study found that ginger relieves osteoarthritis pain in knees better than a placebo. To ease pain, draw a soothing ginger bath by shaving a couple of tablespoons of fresh ginger into a mesh bag and tossing it into the warm water.
A natural decongestant, ginger is used by Chinese herbalists to strengthen the immune system and ease cold symptoms such as sore throat and coughing. Curb your cold with a cup of ginger tea that’s also infused with lemon and honey (see Ginger Lemon-Aide recipe).
Ginger’s most well-known healing power is its stomach-soothing properties. Research abounds on ginger’s ability to treat nausea. Several studies suggest ginger may work better than a placebo in reducing symptoms of motion sickness, while others find it may reduce nausea in pregnant women. It can also treat indigestion, the idea being that it may help regulate elevated sugar levels in the stomach, helping them to return to a normal balance.
How to Use Ginger
Many researchers think the most effective way to take medicinal herbs is as food. Enjoy ginger fresh, dried, ground or powdered in a wide range of dishes. The rhizome (underground stem) becomes a pungent spice with a sweet and zesty intensity when grated (it tastes more pungent dried). Fresh or dried ginger tastes great in curries, stir-fries, noodle dishes, fried rice and even on top of fresh fruit. Ground ginger flavors sweet seasonal treats such as gingerbread, gingersnaps, muffins and breads, while powdered ginger is used to flavor ginger ale and other confections. You can also drink warming ginger tea. Steep fresh-grated ginger root in boiling water for five to 10 minutes and enjoy (no more than 2 cups daily). Make a stronger brew for use in a bath, soak or poultice (see instructions for the Hot Ginger Poultice).
If you wish to take ginger in supplement form, try these doses: For arthritic pain, 250 to 500 milligrams, 2 to 3 times a day; for nausea, 1 gram daily. Don’t take more than 4 grams a day, and don’t give to children under age 2. Pregnant women shouldn’t take more than 1 gram per day.
Adding ginger to the diet is generally safe for both young and old, but taking ginger in supplement form may interact with certain medications. Talk with your health-care provider before taking ginger, especially if you are on diabetes medications, high blood pressure medications or blood-thinning medications such as Warfarin.