Benefits of Ginger for Cooking and Healing

There are many benefits of ginger including it's cure for indigestion and nausea in the form of ginger tea and the delicious flavor it adds to cookies, breads and beer.


| November/December 1981



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Ginger grows only in hot, wet, tropical areas of the world such as parts of Indian, China, Nigeria and Jamaica.


ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

Lately, more and more people have begun to understand just how limited — in both variety and nutritional value — our "modern" diets have become. This realization has sparked a new and widespread interest in the culinary and therapeutic uses of herbs . . . those plants which — although not well known today — were, just one short generation ago, honored "guests' on the dinner tables and in the medicine chests of our grandparents' homes. In this regular feature, MOTHER EARTH NEWS will examine the availability, cultivation, and benefits of our "forgotten" vegetable foods and remedies . . . and — we hope — help prevent the loss of still another bit of ancestral lore.  

The Ginger Plant

Ginger can be any of various perennial plants of the Zingiberaceae family (which includes cardamom and turmeric, among others), but Zingiber officinale is the "proper" or commercial product most familiar to us. Unfortunately for gardeners In the temperate zones, ginger grows only in hot, wet, tropical areas of the world . . . such as parts of India, China, Nigeria, Queensland (Australia), and Jamaica. North America hosts unrelated plants, known as wild ginger (Asarum canadense and other species), with a similar — though milder — odor and taste, which can be used for medicinal and culinary purposes.

Reed-like and somewhat exotic-looking, with its leaf-sheathed stem and spikes of yellow flowers, ginger grows three to five feet tall and has 6- to 12-inch pointed leaves. The thick root — or rhizome — is whitish or buff colored, aromatic, and knotty.

According to some authorities, ginger was brought from Asia to the Mediterranean by Roman soldiers around the first century A.D., and all agree that the spice had become quite popular in England by the eleventh century. The Spaniards introduced it to the West Indies shortly after the discoveries of Columbus, and the spice was carried to continental North America by the Pilgrims.

Cooking and Healing with Ginger

From the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, ginger was a common — and sometimes overwhelming! — ingredient in everyday meals. The spice was used in such quantities that people must have sometimes found it difficult to identify the underlying substance of a dish. One entree, for instance, specified that two kinds of ginger be chopped up with the meat, which was then cooked in a batter of . . . more ginger.

Thanks in part to the introduction of sugar as a common food additive and to the marketing philosophy of the industrial revolution (more sales and a smaller selection), the enormous variety of seasonings typical of medieval and Renaissance cuisine dwindled to a bare handful . . . but ginger survived, and is still popular today.





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