Welcome to part 4 of the series on Ayurveda and the botanicals used in this 5,000 year old medical science. In this issue we focus on ginger, the herb that Ayurveda calls “The Universal Medicine” and which has perhaps the oldest botanical tradition in the West. Ginger (Zingiber Officinale) has a long history in both China and India for its medicinal properties, both in fresh and dried root form. Popularly known as a side dish in Western culture, the health-promoting properties of this root are tremendous, so let’s examine it in more detail.
Ginger is a perennial herb with irregularly shaped underground roots that are glossy and succulent when cut. It is this root that has the characteristic aroma and medicinal properties in fresh and dried form. In fact, ginger is used in so many ailments that it’s best to break down benefits to effects on individual organ systems.
Starting with the digestive system, ginger is known to stimulate digestion and improve the tone of the intestinal tract, which can ease the digestive process itself and lead to less irritation. Additionally, ginger may be a protective agent for the stomach against damage caused by both nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and alcohol. These results suggest that ginger may also play a role in preventing stomach ulcers.
Ginger preparations are very user-friendly. Crushed fresh ginger is commonly mixed with lemon juice and honey in Ayurvedic medicine to reduce both nausea and vomiting, although the exact mechanisms behind these effects are not clear. Indigestion and biliary colic are other conditions where ginger has benefits.
The use of ginger in the musculoskeletal system focuses heavily on its anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger is known to inhibit the production of cytokines, which are chemicals that modulate immune response and promote inflammation. Therefore, ginger is used to treat conditions like arthritis, bursitis, and other pain syndromes where inflammation is a cause. Ginger is also known to improve blood circulation, thereby enhancing its effectiveness in treating pain disorders. These properties of ginger, along with its relatively few side effects compared to pharmaceutical drugs like NSAIDs, give the root a niche in treating inflammation and pain.
In Ayurvedic medicine, it is believed that the body accumulates toxins, which then lead to infections. The Ayurveda term for these toxins is “ama” and ama must be “digested” by the immune system in order to rid the body of disease. Ginger is used in this role in digesting infectious agents and has been effective in treating sinusitis, bronchitis, and allergic rhinitis for thousands of years. These disease processes are similar in that accumulation of bodily secretions causes symptoms. This is where using dried or fresh ginger in herbal teas can offer a defense against respiratory diseases. Herbal teas with ginger can also cause sweating and fever reduction during viral diseases such as influenza.
Other uses for ginger in Ayurvedic medicine are numerous and ancient Vedic texts attest to ginger having aphrodisiac properties. Menstrual pain relief, irregular menstrual periods, treatment of impotence are other documented uses. Ginger has also been used externally to treat headaches, muscle aches and toothaches. The list goes on and I am sure you are beginning to understand why Ayurveda calls this root “The Universal Medicine”.
Ginger, unlike amalaki and turmeric described in previous articles, is readily available in many forms in the United States. There are many Ayurvedic websites where ginger can be ordered, and it is common to find fresh ginger root in grocery stores across the West. However, remember that the real key to using these botanicals in Ayurveda is finding a synergistic combination where the potency of one herb or fruit can enhance the effects of the others. Look for combinations that use ginger with other Ayurvedic herbs and you can maximize your health benefits from each botanical.
The next part of the series looks at an herb also known as “holy basil” and why it holds a place of honor in Ayurveda.
For more information on Ayurveda and its synergistic products being introduced in the West, follow the link below. Thank you for reading!
For your health and longevity,
dr Kevin Rosie
Thanks to Dr. Kevin Rosi