Arthritis : In Season: Ginger

By Michael T. Murray, ND

Did you know that ginger is considered a perennial herb? Native to Asia, India, and China, ginger has been popular in these regions for thousands of years, where it was valued for its aromatic, culinary, and medicinal properties. Ginger grew in popularity in Renaissance Europe, where it was thought to prevent the plague, and was present at every table setting as salt and pepper is today.

Health Benefits
  • Historically, ginger has been very effective at alleviating symptoms of gastrointestinal distress.
  • Ginger contains a compound called gingerols, which acts as an anti-inflammatory, and has been shown to effectively treat osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Scientific studies have shown ginger to possess therapeutic properties including carminative and intestinal spasmolytic effects, antioxidant effects, and the ability to inhibits the formation of inflammatory compounds.
  • Currently, studies are being conducted that show ginger's ability to prevent motion sickness.
  • Ginger has been shown to be an effective treatment for nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy.
Ginger is available in various forms.

Whole fresh roots. These provide the freshest taste. The roots are collected and shipped when they are still immature; the outer skin is a light green color.

Dried roots. These are sold either "black" with the root skin left on or "white" with the skin peeled off. The dried root is available whole or sliced.

Powdered ginger. This is the buff-colored ground spice made from dried root.

Preserved or "stem" ginger. This is made from fresh young roots, peeled and sliced, then cooked in a heavy sugar syrup. The ginger pieces and syrup are canned together. They are soft and pulpy but extremely hot and spicy.

Crystalized ginger. This is also cooked in sugar syrup, then air-dried and rolled in sugar.

Pickled ginger. The root is sliced paper thin and pickled in a vinegar solution. This pickle, known in Japan as gari, often accompanies sushi to refresh the palate between courses.

How to Select and Store

Fresh ginger can be purchased in the produce section and most markets. Ginger is generally available in two forms, either young or mature. Mature ginger, the more widely available type, has a tough skin that requires peeling, while young ginger, usually only available at Asian markets, need not be peeled. Fresh ginger can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three weeks if it is left unpeeled.

Whenever possible, choose fresh ginger over dried since it is not only superior in flavor but also contains higher levels of gingerol as well as ginger's active protease, its anti-inflammatory compounds. The bronze root should be fresh-looking, with no signs of decay such as soft spots, mildew, or a dry, wrinkled skin.

If fresh ginger is not available, dried ginger is widely available. Just as with other dried spices, when purchasing dried ginger powder, try to select organically grown ginger, since organically grown spices are much less likely to have been irradiated. Dried ginger powder should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark, dry place for no more than six months.

Tips for Use

A paring knife is the best utensil to remove the skin from fresh, mature ginger; gently push it off using the tip of a spoon. The ginger can then be sliced, minced, or julienned. It is important to note that the strength and taste that ginger impart to a dish depend upon its timely addition during the cooking process. If it is added at the beginning, it will create a subtler taste; however, if you add it near the end, it will be much more pungent.

For centuries, ginger has been regarded as an essential ingredient in many Eastern cuisines. As it gained popularity in other parts of the world, ginger's flavor has leant itself to many American favorites such as ginger ale and gingerbread. Consider making a ginger tea by boiling ginger in hot water, and adding orange or lemon to taste. Adding ginger to fresh fruits can be a great way to incorporate it into your daily menu.

Dr. Michael T. Murray is one of the world's leading authorities on natural medicine and the author of more than 30 bestselling books, including The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. He is a graduate and former faculty member, and serves on the Board of Regents, of Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington.

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