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Ginger is closely related to turmeric, galangal and cardamom. It is a household spice with an unmistakable aroma and taste due to the presence of specific ketones, such as gingerol. Its common name comes from the Middle English word ‘gingivere’, but this spice dates back over 3000 years to the Sanskrit word ‘srngaveram’, meaning ‘horn root’.
The Indians and Chinese are believed to have processed ginger root as a tonic for over 5000 years to treat various ailments. Ginger continued to be a highly sought-after commodity in Europe throughout the Middle Ages, with Arab merchants trading in ginger and other spices for several centuries. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the value of a pound of ginger was equivalent to the cost of a sheep.
Ginger is widely used around the world to treat various disorders and ailments, such as colds, flu, nausea and infections. It is often used to treat issues with the stomach, including motion sickness, colic, upset stomach, diarrhea, flatulence, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and a loss of appetite.
Ginger can also be used for pain relief, caused by arthritis, menstruation, infections, migraines, bronchitis and diabetes. The plant has even been used to stimulate the production of breast milk, as a diuretic and to minimise the symptoms of malaria. Some people pour fresh ginger juice on their skin to treat burns.
Ginger contains chemical compounds that may reduce nausea and inflammation. Researchers believe the chemicals work primarily in the stomach and intestines, but they may also work in the brain and nervous system.
Ginger is native to the warmer parts of Asia, such as China, Japan, and India. However, it is also grown in tropical climates around the world, including in Africa, South America and the Middle East. It is noted as naturalized in central Africa.
Wild populations of ginger do exist, but this plant is a common agricultural species. Around 3-million tonnes of ginger are grown every year. It is mainly grown in India (32% of the overall total), but South African farms and small-scale agricultural projects do grow ginger too.
There are currently no conservation needs for ginger.
Ginger is a herbaceous perennial with long leaves and a pungent edible rhizome – what we all know as the ginger ‘root’. The plant produces yellowish-green flowers with purple edges and the rhizome grows at the base of the plant. It also grows pseudostems (false stems comprising the rolled bases of the leaves) and can reach one metre tall.
Ginger is used in numerous forms, including fresh, dried, pickled, preserved, crystallized, candied and powdered. The following dosages have been scientifically-recommended; for nausea and vomiting: 1 gram of ginger daily; for painful menstruation: 250 mg of ginger extract, four times a day; for dizziness or vertigo: 1 gram of ginger.
Over 115 compounds have been identified in fresh and dried ginger. Gingerols are the major constituents of fresh ginger and are found slightly reduced in dry ginger. Shogaols, 6-paradol, hexahydrocurcumin, tetrahydrocurcumin and gingerenone A are other major active ingredients found in ginger.
This spice has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-nausea properties. Research on its anticancer properties are ongoing – some studies suggest that ginger is an effective treatment for certain types of cancer. It is likely effective as a treatment for the symptoms of nausea caused by chemotherapy.
There are no current threats to the ginger plant.
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