Herb Profile: Ginger Plant | Zingiber Officinale

An abundance of health benefits come from the ginger plant, a peppery rhizome also known as Zingiber officinale.

| October/November 2010

Genus: Zingiber officinale
• Sometimes called zingiber
• Hardy to Zone 7

The ginger plant (Zingiber officinale) is our favorite rhizome to cook with. What is a rhizome? We think of it as a root, but the clusters or “hands” of ginger that we buy are really rhizomorphous. They are thickened, modified underground stems, which produce roots below and shoots above ground. Native to Southeast Asia, this ancient plant has been cultivated intensively there for cooking and medicine, noted as far back as the Later Han Dynasty (25 A.D. to 220 A.D.).

Try This Recipe: Ginger Syrup 

How to Use Ginger

Culinarily, the pungency of ginger is used around the globe, fresh, dried and ground. Green ginger (raw) is broken into “fingers” and sliced into coins or grated and used in soups, marinades, stir-fries, curries, chutneys, and with meat and fish dishes. We like it especially with sweet potatoes, pumpkin and winter squash, and just a touch in fruit salads. It is often sliced or cubed and candied or preserved in syrup. Pickled ginger is very popular today and is served alongside sushi.

Once dried, the volatile oils in ginger (gingerols and shogaols) become more pungent, thus making them stronger in flavor. The spicy-hot ground ginger is what we buy to make gingerbread, gingersnaps, muffins and quick breads, puddings, sauces, etc.; medicinally, it is used in Ayurvedic and Chinese prescriptions in different applications than fresh ginger. Worldwide, powdered ginger is used to flavor ginger ale, condiments and confections. The oil is distilled from whole dried, and then ground, ginger and is sometimes used as a commercial flavoring, but it is more often employed in perfumery.

Health Benefits of Ginger Root

An abundance of health benefits come from this peppery rhizome; since it is a warming herb, it increases perspiration. It also stimulates digestion, as well as respiration, circulation and the nervous system. We know many experienced gardeners who use ginger tea and candied ginger as an anti-inflammatory to ease the ache of over-used joints. Probably, ginger is best known for its ability to relieve motion sickness, indigestion, nausea and morning sickness. It also helps with flatulence. As an herbal expectorant, it eases the symptoms of colds, cough and flu. It is not recommended for individuals with digestive ulcers, high fevers or inflamed skin conditions.

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