Healthful Ginger for the Holidays

A spoonful of ginger.The Holiday Season is in full swing and with it comes an almost insane schedule of shopping, entertaining, special events and, of course, dining out and cooking for friends and family.  And while the holidays sure can be fun, they aren’t always so good for our health in terms of stress, lack of sleep, colds and flu and the good old-fashioned belly ache from eating way too much “good stuff”.   Luckily, the holidays are naturally festooned with some of the most potent healing herbs and spices in the world including cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and ginger – one of my all time favorites.  Not only does ginger taste great in a dizzying array of holiday dishes, it can also make you feel better when the holidays get the best of you.

Until five or six years ago, fresh ginger wasn’t something that most grocers stocked year-round. Before that, the average consumer only knew ginger in its dried and powdered form.  These days, fresh ginger root has become very popular with home chefs and foodies, and good quality rhizomes are easily found in the produce section of most major grocery store chains.

This is a good thing, because now consumers have a choice.  And like many medicinal culinary herbs, each form – fresh or dried – has its own range of flavors and medicinal benefits.

Culinary Uses

Since it is the holidays, let’s take a look at how ginger is used in the kitchen to season food:

Fresh ginger tends to be hot and spicy, while dried ginger is smooth and sweet. Dried ginger works best in desserts and baked goods because it is dried and ground into a very fine powder – something that is hard, but not impossible) to do with fresh rhizomes.  Dried ginger is excellent in rice or bread puddings, sweet breads, fruit pie fillings, cooked or baked fruit, cookies, cakes, bread and the like.  This is not to say that fresh ginger can’t be finely ground with a ginger grater and used in baked goods, it’s just that dried ginger has a smoother and sweeter flavor and can be blended into baked goods more thoroughly than fresh ginger.

On the other hand, fresh ginger really shines when used with fish, chicken, meat, eggs, vegetables, rice, hot or cold drinks, salad dressing, marinade, oils, and vinegars. When it comes to preparing entrées, keep in mind that ginger and garlic go exceptionally well together.  If you’re looking for an Asian flair, all you need to do is add a bit of soy or fish sauce to that pairing and you’re in business.  In fact, pickled ginger is often served with sushi to cleanse the palate after each dish.

Of course, ginger is both sweet and spicy, which makes it the perfect candidate for candying. Start by peeling the skin off of a large piece of ginger root and slicing it thinly. Simmer the slices in heavy sugar syrup until translucent and cool the pieces on waxed paper before storing in the refrigerator or freezer. Ginger candy is wonderful for using as a medicinal year round, but try serving some after hearty holiday meals to aid digestion, or simply bag them up and give them to your friends and family as a delectable homemade gift.  They’re so good and so good for you!

Preserving Ginger

And don’t let the size of that ginger root intimidate you – even if you can’t use it all in a very short time, ginger is easy to store long-term. Whole, unpeeled ginger root will last many months in a dark cupboard with little need for bagging or preserving.  On the other hand, whole, sliced or grated rhizomes last nearly forever when placed in a zippered freezer bag and frozen.

You could also try making an old-fashioned ginger jar to preserve the root.  Simply peel and slice your ginger as desire, place it into a jar and fill it with sherry or any other liquor or liqueur of your choice.  Personally, I find lemon and ginger to be natural allies and a lemon liqueur would be my first choice.  Another plus to this method: ginger jars do not need to be refrigerated and the resulting liqueur is also a very potent medicinal “tincture” that can be taken by the spoonful as needed.

Of course, another way to preserve ginger would be to dry it. Start by peeling the rhizome with the edge of a spoon or cut it into large chunks and remove the skin with a knife. Grate the ginger as finely as possible using a specialize microplane. Place the grated ginger on to a cookie sheet that has been covered with plastic wrap or waxed paper and allow to dry fully. The dried ginger can then be stored in a jar or further ground in a coffee or spice grinder until very fine.

Now that you know how to cook with ginger and how to process your rhizomes once you have them, let’s take a look at ginger as a medicinal.

Medicinal Uses of Ginger

Now, let’s take a look at why ginger is such an amazing medicinal culinary herb. The list of its medicinal actions are truly astounding.  Ginger is adaptogenic, alterative, analgesic, antibacterial, anticoagulant, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antinauseant, antioxidant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiulcer, aphrodisiac, cardiac tonic, carminative, circulatory stimulant, diaphoretic, digestive aid, emmenagogue, expectorant, hypotensive, hypoglycemic, rubefacient, stomachic, vermicidal.

To put that all in laymen’s terms;  if you only use one phytomedicinal in your life, let it be ginger! This unassuming rhizome is used to treat heart disease, hypertension, angina, irregular heartbeat, high cholesterol, poor blood circulation, blood clots, and cold hands or feet.  It is also effective in the treatment of nausea, vomiting, and motion and morning sickness. It stimulates and regulates menstrual flow and eases menopausal symptoms.  It is often used to reduce lactation in nursing women, so if you are breastfeeding, give ginger a rest until you’re ready to stop.

Ginger is the perfect medicinal culinary herb for the holidays because it inhibits and eases cold and flu symptoms including cough, headache, nausea, fever, chills, tonsillitis, earache, and chest and sinus congestion. It is also helpful for rheumatic pain, sprains, sore muscles and digestive disorders such as dyspepsia, indigestion, colic, flatulence, diarrhea, heartburn, and bloating.

Ginger readily prevents and treats infection and, when paired with sage, is excellent for cold or canker sores, gum inflammation, and sore throat. Approved by the German Commission E, ginger is now being studied as a possible cancer cell inhibitor.

Medicinal Preparation

I like to eat my medicine whenever I can, but there are times when a concentrated preparation is needed to knock my symptoms off the map in a hurry.  Teas and infusions are pleasant ways to concentrate the medicinal actions of herbs – especially tasty ones like ginger!  Prepare an infusion by steeping 2 tbsp. (12 g) freshly grated ginger (or 2 tsp. [3.6 g] dried) in 1 cup (237 ml) of just-boiled water for five to ten minutes. Drink one to three cups daily as needed.

As I already mentioned, ginger candy is a fantastic and tasty way to take medicinal doses of ginger. And it may be the only way to get your young ones to take it without complaint.

Tinctures are the fast and easy way to get highly concentrated ginger into the body and when you know how, they’re very easy to make. Tinctures can be taken sublingually (under the tongue) or stirred into a bit of water or tea.  Tincture the fresh root using a 1:5 ratio (one part ginger to 5 parts alcohol) and take 1 to 3 ml up to three times a day. To learn more about how to make a quality herbal tincture, check out Making Herbal Tinctures: Part I and Making Herbal Tinctures: Part II.

Decoctions are used as washes, soaks, and compresses. For motion sickness, take ½ tsp. (250 mg) of ginger three hours before travel and every three hours thereafter as needed. This also works for pets and children. Ginger is safe to consume every day. Take up to roughly ¼ tsp. (500 mg) of powdered ginger or 2 tbsp. (12 g) or more of freshly grated ginger per day. Traditional herbalists recognize that the dry and fresh forms of ginger have different actions upon the body.

A Few Precautions

The only cautions associated with the medicinal use of ginger is that it can increase the absorption of certain pharmaceutical drugs and herbal medicines by up to 200%.  So, check with your doctor before adding medicinal doses of ginger to your diet. In addition, women who are breast feeding should consult a professional before using ginger as an antinauseant, as it is known to reduce lactation. And if you have a clotting disorder, are on prescription drugs such as blood thinners or anticoagulants, or are preparing for surgery, be sure to consult your doctor before using medicinal doses of ginger.

Wrap It Up

All in all, ginger is one of those amazing culinary medicinals that no one should ever be without. Not only does it flavor and enhance your holiday meals, but soothes many of the woes that come during the holiday season.  So, when you find yourself coming down with something, or are simply over-shopped, stressed out, feeling rundown or overfed, turn to ginger for an easy, flavorful and safe cure.  You can read more about ginger and 34 other culinary medicinals in my book, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs! And don’t forget to share this article with your friends. It’s a free gift they’re sure to appreciate!

Happy holidays!

© 2015 Jill Henderson  Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.

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Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore.  Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.

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2 responses to “Healthful Ginger for the Holidays

  1. Overall, an excellent summary article. All I’d add is that I learned a long time ago the easiest way to preserve fresh ginger root is to clean it, then place it entirely into a sherry of 16% or more, in a tightly covered container in your fridge.

    The ginger root will stay as fresh as the day you bought it, and after six months what you haven’t used can be recycled as sherry cooking wine for Oriental cuisine!

    • Thanks for sharing that tip, Joseph! In the article, I mention storing ginger in various forms of alcohol, except that I suggest peeling the ginger first. I also mentioned that one could keep the ginger jar on the counter, when in fact, it should be kept in the refrigerator, as you suggest. It will keep much longer this way. And I love the tip about using the sherried ginger for cooking! Yum!

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