Ginger is a creeper with a subterranean stem that provides the 'root' commonly used in cooking. It has traditionally been used to treat gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea and diarrhoea as well as headaches and arthritis. Ginger aids in the absorption of fatty foods by increasing the production of digestive fluids and saliva. It also neutralises stomach acid and increases movement in the intestines.
Gingers efficacy come from a compound called gingerol, which is also responsible for its distinctive taste. Gingerol has been shown to prevent blood cells and platelets from clotting and clumping, and is therefore a natural blood thinner. In animal trials it has also been shown to help slow the cancerous growth of tumours. Ginger has pain relieving properties similar to capsaicin, the active ingredient of chilli peppers and capsicum. Recent studies show that ginger might also have a role in lowering cholesterol, as it helps reduce the amount of cholesterol that is absorbed. Ginger also helps reduce inflammation, and can be used to treat diseases such as arthritis. Ginger stimulates the body to sweat (termed a diaphoretic), which makes it a natural decongestant and antihistamine, making it a perfect remedy for colds and flu. In some Asian cultures ginger has also been ascribed aphrodisiac powers, and is mentioned in the Karma Sutra.
Ginger has no known serious side effects, however do take the following precautions:
Ginger is available in 'root', capsule, powder and preserved forms. One should note that most ginger ales use an artificial flavoring, and contain little or no ginger. There is therefore usually not enough ginger content for the drink to be effective. When purchasing ginger in supplement form check the label to ensure it is made from organic ingredients with no additional chemicals or substitutes added. Also follow the recommended dosage for any ginger herbal supplement.