Ginger is an ingredient that everyone knows, an oddly shaped spice that is at once hot and fragrant. It’s a flowering plant that’s widely used as spice and in many traditional medicines. Ginger is within the same family as turmeric and cardamom. It comes in a variety of forms, the most common from China, also known as yellow ginger; Japanese ginger, a more pungent form; and Thai ginger, aka galangal, with a smaller root but similar flavor and odor.
It’s believed that ginger has been cultivated for close to 5,000 years, originating on an island in Southeast Asia. Ginger was grown deliberately and used for many purposes from food and medicine to even floor mats. It also featured heavily in healing ceremonies, folk medicine and as protection from spirits.
The first written record of ginger comes from the Analects of Confucius, written in China during the Warring States period (475-221 BC). Confucius was never without ginger when he ate; he incorporated it into all of his meals. In 406 AD, famous Buddhist monk Faxian wrote about ginger being grown on pots in ships to stave off scurvy.
The healing properties of ginger quickly spread after that, and soon it was being imported from China into other countries. Ancient Greeks would eat ginger wrapped in bread after a large meal to aid digestion. Ginger was even seen as a symbol of wealth in ancient Rome, where it was also used to boost fertility, and remained a very highly sought-after commodity long after the empire’s fall.
To this day, ginger is still one of the most prevalent spices used around the globe in both diet and medicinal healing. The key part is rhizome, or the underground part of the stem; this is what’s commonly used as a spice, often called ginger root or simply just ginger.
Ginger has been known for centuries as a healing plant, a remedy for everything stomach-related, like upsets, digestive disorders, bloating, flu symptoms, flatulence and nausea. It’s a good source of fiber and helps facilitate healthy bowel movements; it can also control excess stomach acids and gas buildup in the intestines. Fresh, raw ginger root contains calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and vitamin C, as well.
The unique fragrance and flavor of ginger comes from gingerol, the natural oil contained within, which is the plant’s main bioactive compound and holds a very long history of use in traditional and alternative medicine. In fact, Traditional Chinese Medicine maintained that ginger could treat the whole human body because the roots look like they have a head, legs and arms. Research has borne this out, as gingerol is now known to be a powerful antioxidant that reduces oxidative stress.
Goldie Bonnell, international training manager for ESPA in the Americas, has more than 25 years of experience in the skin care and wellness industries. She has designed programs and client treatments for numerous spas and is a featured speaker at industry trade shows.