Herb of the Month: Ginger Zingiber officinalis 

Lemon balm Melissa officinalis

In the garden

Although people don’t buy ginger as an ornamental garden plant, it can successfully be raised in British gardens to increase stock of the rhizomes. Bob Flowerdew (Gardeners’ Question Time, BBC Radio 4) grows it in pots in a cold greenhouse, and the leaves are certainly attractive, glossy green and decorative. You can see the buds on rhizomes sometimes, indicating that it will grow shoots and leaves.

In the kitchen

Ginger is most commonly used in powdered form in cookery as a fiery flavouring, in curries, biscuits and chutneys. Historically, it would have been introduced into the West for its medicinal properties, in the same way as garlic, pepper, cinnamon and cardomom. Its Latin name, Zingiber officinale, shows that it was named as a medicine – ‘officina’ is the herbalist’s office, or apothecary.

In herbal medicine

Ginger contains hundreds of compounds and metabolites, as do most medicinal plants, of which the most important are the sesquiterpene hydrocarbons, gingerols and shogaols. The phenolic compounds relieve irritation in the digestive tract, stimulate the flow of saliva (which starts the chemical breakdown of starches) and bile (which digests fats). These compounds act on the muscle walls of the stomach to reduce contractions after food has passed into the duodenum. Ginger aids the digestive enzymes trysin and pancreatic lipase, increasing motility through the digestive tract, relieving constipation and potentially lowering risk of colon cancer.

Ginger is a well-known remedy for nausea, whether caused by travel sickness, pregnancy or chemotherapy. Ginger promotes sweating, and the circulation, and is helpful to keep one warm in winter. To make a natural soothing remedy for a cold, or flu, make Ginger Tea. Peel and slice a thumb of fresh ginger and steep it in a cup of hot water. Add a slice of lemon or a drop of honey if you like, and a few peppercorns, cardamoms and a stick of cinnamon for their anti-bacterial properties.

Ginger, like its cousin turmeric, reduces inflammation, a major cause of many serious conditions. It reduces cholesterol, and helps normalise blood sugar. Avoid using a lot of ginger, however, if you are taking antiplatelet or anticoagulant drugs.

For further information on the benefits of herbs or our herb of the month call 01453 884 092to speak to our medical herbalist 

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