By Hwaa Irfan
Unlike the Chinese kao-liang kiang (large mild ginger), Zingiber Officinale is native to south east Asia. Confucius (557–479 BC) mentioned ginger in his Analects and apparently never ate without it. Dioscorides and Pliny both associated ginger cultivation with Arabia and Trogodytica (present-day Somalia).
Known as Jahé/Aliah (Indonesia), az-zanjabil (Arabic), adrak/sunth (Pakistan), shringavera (Snaskirt), aje/orin/atale. (Yoruba-Nigeria), ginger is one of those spices that were imported into the Mediterranean via the old trade route, the Silk Road and other trade routes. The spice trade run by the Arabs underpinned the wealth that helped found Renaissance Italy. It became a luxury of the elite, and by the late Middle Ages, a pound of ginger was worth a sheep and a pound of nutmeg worth seven fat oxen.
Native to South America, there are 9 species of this herbaceous perennial, which all belong to the Zingiberaceae family of the plant kingdom. Wild ginger Asarum canadense of the Aristolochiaceae family grows in shady areas with rich soils in North America, especially in North Carolina and Kansas, and has been used by the indigenous Americans as an appetizer. It is also plentiful in the deep forests of Chhattisgarh, India.
Referred to in Surat-ul Baqra 68, as one the two aromatics of Jannah/Paradise, the plant grow as an underground perennial stem. The pungent rhizomes we know and love grow horizontally underground sending out shoots as well as roots, and are gathered from December – March. Second year growth produces a crop that is not so superior in quality, and is called Blue Ginger. Because plant draws much from the soil, in countries like Jamaica, a new field is planted each season. The rhizomes once unearthed are washed and scraped of their epidermis, then dried in the sun, and are referred to as White Ginger which Jamaica is renowned for.
The stems are erect, round, and growing annually. The small flowers are yellow, but not bright in color though they emit a fragrance when rubbed or bruised. The stamens are sterile, and the ovary is ovular in shape and contains many ovules.
A cash crop in Sierre Leone, India is the main global supply of the commercial variety of ginger along with Australia , Fiji, Jamaica, and Indonesia. The Black Ginger comes from Africa and East India, and the next best quality after White Ginger is Cochin ginger from India.
Large quantities are sent to England from the East. Bleaching the ginger with chlorinated lime is a common practice or whitewashing with diluted milk of lime. But naturally, the properties are compromised by such procedures.
The best ginger is that which cuts pale, but bright; its quality, however, must be judged by its color, odor, taste, heaviness, and freedom from perforation by insects.
Containing over 477 phytochemical properties they include:
- Capric acid
- Gingerol homologues
- Lauric acid
- Linoleic acid
- Linolenic acid
- Myristic acid
- Nicotinic acid
- Oleic acid
- Palmitic acid
- Shogaol homologues
Gingerols is an anti-inflammatory, which has been found to be effective in pain reduction for those suffering from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Gingerol has also been found to be effective in killing ovarian cancer cells.
Zingerone has been foudn to be effective against E.coli induced diarrhea in children.
Recently, ginger has been found to be more effective than cancer drugs, which in general accelerates death. Research at Georgia State University found whole ginger extract had the ability to shrink the size of prostrate tumor by 56% confirming 17 other studies.
Zingibain has been found to enhance the efficacy of antibacterials by 50%, and increases immunity against digesting parasites and their eggs due to its strong antioxidant properties.
Antioxidant – is a strong antioxidant with 12 constituents preventing free radicals from damaging healthy cells.
Ginger is antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiemetic, antimutagenic, anticarcinogenic, choleretic and cholagogue, bitter tonic, to protect hepatocyte, to prevent sea sickness, and it is also a stimulant, rubefacient, and sialagogue.
Fresh ginger contains:
- Aspartic acid
- Folic acid
- Glutamic acid
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B₃
- Vitamin B₅ (pantothenic acid)
- Vitamin B₆ (pyridoxine)
- Vitamin B₁₂
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K (phylloquinone)
From a medical point of view zingiber officinale has the ability to interfere with blood clotting, and is ill-advised for those on anticoagulants like coumadin or heparin. In German therapeutics patients with gall bladder disease are warned to avoid ginger.
When buying look out for ginger that is firm, smooth and free of mold. One can tell from the smell how fresh it is though the more widely available type has a tough skin that requires peeling. The fresh root can be kept in the refrigerator for over a month, and powdered/ground ginger should be stored in the refrigerator in airtight containers although they contain very little of the valuable properties.
Well known for reducing vomiting in pregnant women, much of the recent discoveries only serves to prove many traditional practices.
In Pakistan it is used to treat intestinal pain, anorexia, dyspepsia, headache, diarrhoea, constipation, intestinal swelling, dog bite, stomach disorders, sexual weakness, digestive stimulant, and to increase urine production.
In Nigeria, ginger is used in the treatment of toothache, congested nostrils, upper respiratory tract infections, influenza, asthma, stomach problems, rheumatism. Paste made from the rhizome is used to treat infected hepatitis and related liver problems. Ginger tea is commonly taken against coughs, colds and flu. piles, hepatitis and liver problems.
For nausea, ginger tea made by steeping one or two 1/2-inch slices or 2/3 of an ounce of fresh ginger like a tea-bag in a cup of hot water
For arthritis, 1/4-inch slice of fresh ginger cooked in food, and eaten on a regular basis.ded, but as for what we want!
Council of the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain. The British Pharmaceutical Codex, 1911
Gucciardi, A. “Ginger Destroys Cancer More Effectively than Death-Linked Cancer Drugs
Ndukwu, B.C et al. “Ethnomedicinal Aspects Of Plants Used As Spices And Condiments In The
Niger Delta Area Of Nigeria” http://www.siu.edu/~ebl/leaflets/niger.htm
Wickes, H and Lloyd, J.U. “King’s American Dispensatory” 1898