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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ginger - Part 1 of 2

The following is excerpted from Dr. Leung's book, Chinese Healing Foods and Herbs.

Ginger has been used in both Eastern and Western folk medicine for centuries.  Many Westerners who know about ginger probably first came across it by biting into it when eating in a Chinese restaurant and then wondering whether to spit it out or swallow it without further chewing.  To the untrained palate, ginger is no fun to bite into.  Even Chinese do not eat it much, except on special occasions.  They use it mostly in small quantities, mostly as a condiment.  The only time I have seen ginger eaten in any sizable amount is by women after childbirth to rebuild their strength.

What is commonly called ginger root is actually an underground stem.  The plant is known scientifically as Zingiber officinale of the ginger family.  In Chinese, fresh ginger is called sheng jiang and dried Chinese ginger is called gan jiang.  It is a perennial herb with thick tuberous rhizomes (underground stems) from which the aerial stems rise to about 1 m. (3.3 ft) tall.  They bear relatively large leaves that are 15 to 30 cm. (6-12 inches) long and about 2 cm (0.8 inches) wide.  The cultivated ginger plant seldom flowers.

Ginger is believed to be native to the Pacific Islands.  It is now widely cultivated in the tropics and in warm climates.  Major ginger producing countries include China, India, Jamaica, and Nigeria.  

Both fresh and dried ginger roots are used in food and in medicine.  But dried ginger is produced in much larger quantities; it is used for the preparation of ginger oil, extracts, and oleoresins.  These are used widely in flavoring processed foods and soft drinks (e.g., ginger ale and ginger beer) as well as in cosmetic products such as perfumes (especially Oriental types and men's fragrances).

In Western folk medicine, ginger is mainly used as a carminative, appetite stimulant, and daphoretic (promoting perspiration).

Many chemical constituents have been found in ginger.  They include 1% to 3% volatile oil, pungent essences called gingerols, zingerone, and shogaols, about 9% protein, up to 50% starch, 6% to 8% fats, resins, minerals, vitamins (especially A and niacin), amino acids, and other biologicallly active chemicals.  The volatile oil in turn contains dozens of chemical compounds and is responsible for the smell of ginger.  Gingerols, zingerone, and shogaols are responsible for its biting, pungent taste.

A protein digesting enzyme (protease) has recently been isolated from fresh ginger root in relatively high yield (2.26%).  If further research is successful, ginger may some day turn up on your kitchen shelf as a meat tenderizer, which is now made mainly from papain from papaya.

Some Japanese studies have found ginger to contain strong antioxidants, which can keep potato chips, oily and fat foods, and cookies from turning rancid or stale.

Although much of the chemical research on ginger has been done in the West,most of the biological research has been done by Chinese and Japanese scientists. They have found that  ginger has a wide variety of effects on microorganisms, animals, and humans.  The best known is its  ability to stop vomiting in experimental animals (e.g. dogs) and nausea and vomiting in humans.  Shogaols are among its anti-emetic constituents.  The carminative properties of ginger are also well known.

In experiments with rats previously fed cholesterol, scientists found that ginger extracts lowered the cholesterol levels in the blood and liver of these rats.

In one Chinese study, healthy human subjects were given 1 g. (0.04 oz.) of fresh ginger and told to chew it but not to swallow it.  Their blood pressure was found to increase temporarily by an average of 11.2 mm. systolic and 14 mm. diastolic pressure.

To be continued...

Next time, we discuss traditional and modern uses of ginger, and some home remedies.

This information is excerpted from Dr. Albert Leung’s book, Chinese Healing Foods and Herbs. This publication includes further information and home remedies using ginger as well as over 45 other herbs.

Learn more about ginger and read further about Dr. Leung and his writings! Visit www.earthpower.com.

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