FROM time to time this column carries articles on food items generally used by consumers. We have, for example, recently carried articles on turmeric and vinegar. The response we have had from consumers is very positive, since though they have used such items frequently, and indeed for most of their lives, they know very little about them. This week, we would be focusing on ginger, a much-loved spice, which is widely used for culinary purposes and medicinally.
Ginger is believed to have originated in South-East Asia and was widely used by early Indian and Chinese civilisations some 5,000 years ago. It was introduced into the New World shortly after Columbus’ arrival and quickly spread throughout the Americas. In Guyana, it was widely used during the times of slavery and indentureship, much more as a culinary than a medicinal substance.
It was used in cooking both meat and vegetable dishes and in making a large variety of confections such as ginger fudge and ginger-flavoured sweets of various kinds. Gingerbreads and ginger cakes had always been favourites. It was used as a cocktail mix in a large variety of drinks associated with the Caribbean and rum and ginger has held its own as a perennial. Ginger teas, flavoured with a variety of spices, were used as a convalescent drink
and a treatment for colds, ‘flus and fevers and many doctors quietly recommended its use. Its most well-known use in Guyana and the West Indies is to brew ginger beer. Ginger beer is brewed in a variety of strengths and sweetnesses and is a Christmas celebratory drink.
Ginger is one of the most easily grown spices. A fresh piece of ginger placed in a plant pot or any part of a garden or any bit of land surrounding the house would germinate in about 10 days with grass-like leaves with the smell of ginger. The ginger spreads as an underground root and is ready for reaping in about three months. Housewives in the poorer parts of the city always kept a ginger plant in their plant pots.
The culinary uses of ginger are well-known so we will not reiterate them. The varied medicinal uses are however less known:
In the first place, ginger makes an invigorating tea which could be used with milk and sugar or merely as it is brewed. From the times of slavery and indentureship, it was used as an effective relief against fevers and colds and its potency was strengthened with a dash of rum.
It was long used as an effective treatment of nausea which could occur from the upset stomach resulting from surgery or chemotherapy. It is also used for seasickness.
Owing to gingerol, its main bioactive compound, it is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Chronic inflammation is a leading cause of many diseases and pain.
It is known to lower blood sugar and as such, it is an anti-diabetic.
It had long been used in Alternative Medicine to treat chronic indigestion. It helps to stimulate the digestive process by removing food from the upper stomach to the intestines and by so doing, relieves pain and discomfort from the upper part of the stomach.
“Bad cholesterol” (LDL), associated with heart disease, has its levels lowered by the use of ginger. Likewise, it is known to inhibit the growth of various “bad bacteria”.
It is known to reduce menstrual pain.
Two medicinal uses comparatively recently attributed to it is as a treatment for colon cancer, breast cancer and pancreatic cancer and as a protection against Alzheimer Disease and other forms of Dementia.
The ginger root, like its relative the turmeric root, was used in the ancient Ayurvedic system of medicine as well as in ancient Chinese medicine for over 5,000 years and is still in use today. Western science has been researching both spices and turmeric is now being absorbed into Western Pharmacopeias, Ginger has however not attained the status of turmeric, but its widespread medicinal use is growing.