I was in a lovely traditional veg shop the other day and among a very nice display of fresh herbs, was a basket full of ginger root all gnarled and knobbly. And I thought, what an unprepossessing appearance it has for such a versatile and very special plant.
If I stop and think about it, ginger forms part of my diet in lots of different ways. Ginger is definitely one of my favourite herbal teas. If I haven’t got any ginger tea bags, I have been known to crush a fresh piece of ginger, pour boiling water over it and add some honey – delicious. I am also quite partial to ginger beer, the hotter the better, and the very mention of it always makes me think of Enid Blyton and her wonderful children’s books where every picnic included ‘lashings of ginger beer’.
I bake with it quite often and love a spiced ginger cake and also ginger biscuits. If I am cooking a curry, there will be ginger involved, fresh or powdered, whatever I have to hand. If it’s Christmas, you will be sure to find some crystallised ginger in the house.
It has an utterly unique flavour, spicy, peppery, warming – and it is as much a sensation as a taste and smell.
From 1585, Jamaican ginger was the first oriental spice to be grown in the New World and imported back to Europe, so it has part of our diet for a long time. Today, India, is the largest producer with over 33% of the global production, with China in second place.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a flowering plant in the family Zingiberaceae whose rhizome, ginger root or simply ginger, and this is what we use as a spice. It is a herbaceous perennial which produces clusters of white and pink flower buds that bloom into yellow flowers. It is a reed-like plant with annual leafy stems, about a meter tall. You can grow ginger in this country, even though it is a tropical plant. I personally haven’t tried, but if you have how did you get on? Here is a link with some advice if you fancy having a go.
It is said to be a good remedy in the early stages of an infection because, as a warming spice, it can ‘promote a fever and hasten healing’. Ginger’s warming effects are also said to relieve rheumatic aches and pains by widening the blood vessels and stimulating circulation. It is interesting that, around the world, we like to use ginger as a soothing, healing medicine and yet there is little or no scientific proof that it actually does any good!
In limited studies, ginger was found to be ‘more effective than a placebo’ for treating nausea caused by seasickness, morning sickness and chemotherapy, but the results were negligible. And yet, look in almost any culture and you will see ginger used to help with nausea, travel sickness and headaches. Perhaps it is nothing more than the fact that its warming spiciness makes us feel better, and at the end of the day, perhaps that’s sometimes all we need!