The health benefits of ginger

A culinary spice and medicinal marvel, nutritionist Jo Lewin gives the nutritional low-down on this versatile seasoning.

Fresh ginger root and dried ginger on a table

Ginger belongs to the same family as turmeric and cardamom, and from ancient India and China to Greece and Rome, the rhizome (root) of ginger has been revered. Gingerbread, ginger beer and preserved ginger are all familiar products, but ginger is more than a seasoning – its medicinal properties have been valued and used throughout the ages.

Identifying ginger

The ginger plant is a creeping perennial with thick, tuberous underground stems that can grow up to one metre in height. Cultivated mainly in tropical countries, Jamaican ginger – a paler variety – is regarded as the best variety for culinary use. According to Chinese tradition, dried ginger tends to be hotter than fresh.

Origins

Native to South-east Asia, India and China, ginger has been an integral component of the region's diet and valued for its aromatic, culinary and medicinal properties for thousands of years. The Romans first imported ginger from China, and by the mid-16th century, Europe was receiving more than 2000 tonnes per year from the East Indies. The top commercial producers of ginger now include Jamaica, India, Fiji, Indonesia and Australia.

Types of ginger 

You can buy ginger in a variety of forms, including:

  • Whole fresh roots, which provide the freshest taste
  • Dried roots
  • Powdered ginger, which is a dried root that has been ground 
  • Preserved or 'stem' ginger, which is made from fresh young roots that have been peeled, sliced and cooked in sugar syrup
  • Crystallised ginger, which is also cooked in sugar syrup, then air-dried and rolled in sugar
  • Pickled ginger, which is made by thinly slicing the root and pickling it in vinegar. In Japan this is known as gari, and often accompanies sushi to refresh the palate between courses
4 calories0.2g protein0.1g fat0.8g carbohydrate0.2g fibre
10g serving of fresh ginger
 

The benefits of ginger tea

Lemon and ginger tea

Ginger tea is great to drink when you feel a cold coming on. It's a diaphoretic tea, meaning it will warm you from the inside and promote perspiration – so it's just as good when you simply need to warm up.

To make ginger tea for nausea 
Steep 20-40g of fresh, sliced ginger in a cup of hot water. Add a slice of lemon or a drop of honey to sweeten, if you like.

Other uses of ginger

In English pubs and taverns in the 19th century, bartenders would put out small containers of ground ginger for people to sprinkle into their beer – and it was the ancient Greeks who prized ginger so highly that they mixed it into their bread, creating the first 'gingerbread'.

Medicinal benefits

The many curative properties of ginger have been widely researched. When used on the skin, it can stimulate circulation and soothe burns. As a diaphoretic, it encourages perspiration and can therefore be used to help treat feverish conditions such as influenza or colds.

Helps relieve pain

The root, the part of the plant most widely used in alternative forms of medicine, is rich in volatile oils that contain the active component gingerol. This potent anti-inflammatory compound is believed to explain why people with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis experience reductions in their pain levels and improvements in their mobility when they consume ginger regularly. Gingerols inhibit the formation of inflammatory cytokines, or chemical messengers of the immune system.

Soothes digestive system

Ginger has a long tradition of being very effective in alleviating discomfort and pain in the stomach. It's regarded as an excellent carminative, a substance that promotes the elimination of excessive gas from the digestive system, and soothes the intestinal tract. Colic and dyspepsia respond particularly well to ginger.

Alleviates mild nausea 

Ginger root has also been anecdotally reported to reduce the symptoms associated with motion sickness, including dizziness, nausea, vomiting and cold sweating. Ginger has been used to treat the nausea and vomiting associated with mild pregnancy sickness. However, check with your GP or midwife to ensure it is appropriate for you.

Ginger root on a table

How to select and store

Fresh ginger can be purchased in most supermarkets, and the mature roots have a tough skin that requires peeling. Fresh ginger can be stored in the fridge for up to three weeks if left unpeeled. Whenever possible, choose fresh ginger over dried – it is superior in flavour and contains higher levels of gingerol. The root should be fresh-looking, firm, smooth and free of mould, with no signs of decay or wrinkled skin. If you choose dried ginger instead, store it in an airtight container in a cool, dark, dry place for no more than six months.

Safety

Although regarded as safe for a broad range of complaints, ginger is a potent herb that acts pharmacologically, so it may be unsuitable for some. Ginger also contains moderate amounts of oxalate, so individuals with a history of oxalate-containing kidney stones should avoid eating too much ginger. If you're unsure or concerned whether it is safe for you to consume ginger, always consult your doctor.

Recipe suggestions

Double ginger gingerbread men are a classic for all the family.

Add spice to a slice of cake with triple ginger & spice cake.

Grated or finely chopped, ginger adds a certain zing to a stir-fries such as stir-fried pork with ginger & honey or beef stir-fry with ginger.

Ginger also goes well with fish, like in our salmon & ginger fish cakesMoroccan spiced fish with ginger mash or baked sea bass with lemongrass & ginger.

Jams and chutneys, like our rhubarb & ginger jam or apricot & ginger chutney also benefit from added spice.

Desserts are a perfect way to showcase ginger – try our plum & ginger tarttriple ginger cheesecake or chocolate & ginger torte.


This article was updated on 23 September 2019 by Kerry Torrens.

Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a Registered Nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.

Jo Lewin works as a Community Nutritionist and private consultant. She is a Registered Nutritionist (Public Health) registered with the UKVRN. Visit her website at www.nutrijo.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @nutri_jo.

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

Comments, questions and tips

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sharjina
24th Dec, 2016
Great info i really appreciate it
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