Hidden between tens of thousands of known medicinal herbs and powerful pharmaceuticals is the ever-so-humble, common ginger root. Unlike many medicinal herbs, ginger is incredibly well-researched and remarkably easy to use and incorporate into your everyday health routine – no expertise required. In fact, I’m willing to bet that ginger, in some form, is in most of your kitchens right now, as it’s one of the most commonly used cooking spices and medicinal herbs on the planet.
However, for a little gem that so many love and cherish, what do you really know about ginger other than putting it in your tea when you've got the sniffles? Here's a little background on how ginger is said to help when you're sick or feeling run down:
Where does ginger come from?
Native to Asia, ginger has been incorporated into many cultures’ herbals traditions, including Ayurveda and Western herbology, and it's essential to the medicine that I'm trained in and practice – Chinese medicine. In the Chinese herbal tradition, ginger is used in two forms, known as sheng jiang and gan jiang.
Different ways to use ginger – what can it help with?
According to Chinese medicine, sheng jiang is a younger root used in its fresh form to warm the exterior of the body, and also to warm and regulate the qi, or energy paths, in our digestive organs. It's also called for when there’s phlegm in the lungs when you have a cold, or phlegm in the stomach, like when you ate too much rich food at dinner.
On the other hand, gan jiang is an older root that is dried and is considered more concentrated and hotter than its younger friend. Gan jiang is a metabolic stimulant used to warm and restore vitality and fire in the interior of the body, like when you're feeling cold all the time and can’t seem to get warm or eat a meal without digestive issues.
While traditional medicines have long respected the digestive benefits and warming nature of ginger, modern clinical research has now confirmed a wide range of health benefits, thanks to one of its active substances, zingerone. Zingerone is a potent anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, antidiarrhoeic and antimicrobial, and helps to support conditions that come up in most of our lives (1).
How does ginger ease morning sickness?
Firstly, ginger relaxes the digestive tract thanks to the effects of active substances called gingerols and shogaols. Being so versatile, it's a common and safe go-to in helping to reduce nausea symptoms in pregnancy and easing morning sickness as a whole. To further its amazing qualities, a study from 2014 observed that 1,278 pregnant women found ginger to significantly improved the symptom of nausea compared with a placebo (2).
Does ginger help reduce period pain?
Many of the other effects of ginger seem to go hand in hand, but the traditional Chinese herbal action of 'stopping bleeding' doesn’t seem to fit in quite so easily – what did the ancient herbalists mean exactly? Well, one thing we are now sure of is that ginger reduces heavy menstrual bleeding (3).
A review published earlier this year looked at individual studies on the use of dried ginger capsules in reducing heavy menstrual bleeding – they found that ginger significantly reduced both the blood loss and the menstrual duration (win-win!). So if you're looking for an alternative to your standard paracetamol tablets or even heavier medicines, try ginger first as it really does reduce that dreaded period pain.
What else can ginger help with?
There are so many more health benefits that are said to come with including ginger in your diet, from motion sickness, boosting the immune system, easing the pressure of lower back pain, reducing the strains in exercise training, to even preventing allergic rhinitis – aka seasonal allergies or hay fever.
Adding fresh ginger, dried ginger from the spice aisle, ginger capsules from the medicinal herb aisle or ginger tea to your regular shopping list may help you more than you know. Ginger is good to have on hand for those nights where you enjoyed perhaps a little too much dinner or are feeling run down. And don’t forget – your local herbalist can both advise you on any cautions and help tailor ginger and other herbal remedies you're curious about to your individual health needs.