GINGER - The Ultimate Home Remedy
Dr. Stephen Fulder
It may seem strange to pop into the kitchen for your medicines rather than to the pharmacy.
This is because it is normally assumed that foods cannot also be medicines, or that even if they have some action on the body, these will be too weak to make a notice-able difference. However, special food components can effect the body beyond providing carbohydrates, fats, proteins and vitamins. You have only to consider the sheer dynamite within a teaspoonful of chilli pepper to know how powerful food plants can be. While living in India, for example, I was struck by the fact that in many local households, the mother prepared the spice mixtures, and the day's recipes, according to the season, and any special weaknesses or vulnerabilities within the family. A household member with arthritic problems would get bitter foods, with hot spices such as chilli, ginger and pepper. However the food for a family member with poor digestion would con-tain aromatic seeds like aniseed, coriander and fennel, along with mild lentil soups.This is common folk wisdom. The professionals in traditional medicine (such as Ayurveda in India or Oriental medicine in China) have developed this into a science, with elabo-rate systems of both preventing and treating disease by means of food components.Ginger's Pungent Power
Ginger is a warm and pungent remedy. We only have to bite into it, feeling the taste and aromatic warmth spreading through us, to realise that it may be able to warm up, to get moving, some sluggish body processes. Imagine a hot bath or a sauna. The heat spreads through the body, opening the channels, relaxing the tightness in the muscles (including those that constrict the blood vessels), and spreading body fluids evenly throughout the tissues. This is the kind of action that ginger has, but working from the inside out. Cayenne pepper also works this way, and is a constituent of many of the her-balists' professional concoctions for the treatment of circulatory diseases. Ginger is rather like cayenne, but milder, less irritating, and more suitable for self-treatment as your own kitchen remedy. It is the preferred warming remedy in Orien- tal herbalism, where it is used for cold hands and feet, chills, weakness, poor diges-tion and vomiting, and a weak circulation. Ginger should be taken regularly by those whose circulation needs waking up and warming up. This includes people who:* Suffer from atherosclerosis and are at risk of heart disease from poor diet, lack of exercise, etc. * Smoke heavily * Have cold hands and feet * Feel cold, with a lack of vitality and energy, especially during cold weather *Have 'poor circulation', i.e. inadequate blood supply to the skin and periphery, manifesting as slow wound healing, and muscle pain on exercise. Ginger is very useful in driving out colds, mucous, coughs and bronchial infec-tions. The Chinese use it when the weather or climate is cold and damp to prevent and treat virus infections, chills, rheumatic conditions etc. Once I had a viral infection and a mid-range fever that seemed to drag on. I was feeling wretched - restless, sleep- less, muscles aching, constant nausea and a headache - the kind of misery that you think will never end when you are in the middle of it. I asked for a strong ginger tea, made from grated fresh ginger and honey, and the effect was almost instant. I began to pour with sweat. After this happened, almost everything else sorted itself out. The pains went, my temperature dropped, I could vomit, and I was soon in a deep, healing sleep. In the case of the influenza, or viral fevers in general, it is important to know how to use ginger. It should be used at the stage of the fever where there is shivering or cold hands and feet, and a sensation of chill. It can help the uncomfortable, rest-less, low grade fever which doesn't 'break' and appears to be dragging on. In such cases fresh ginger, grated into a drink with honey and lemon, may assist to bring out the fever. That means, to bring the heat out from the centre to the periphery, to warm the hands and feet, to create sweating and to hasten the 'crisis', as it used to be called, i.e. the break point where sweating is profuse, the fever suddenly drops, and you feel much better. It should not be used, however, if the fever is high, you feel hot, you are red and sweating, and you need to bring down the temperature. In that case, as the head is the most sensitive part of the body to fever, apply to it cool wet towels, or sponge the body with tepid water. Ginger does not specifically attack the virus or bacteria. Nor is it an expecto-rant, that is a medicine that loosens mucous secretions allowing a cough to get them out. Instead it brings in body fluids to the area, warming it up. This mobilises the body defences, encouraging them take the situation a little more seriously, and not be so complacent and lethargic. Thus, in the case of a cough, there is more secretion so the phlegm is thinner and can be coughed up, there is more sweating, driving out the toxins and the virus, there is more immunity, more white cells, and above all, a better circulation to spread this immune system into all those hard to reach places. Mustard plaster used to be an old-fashioned folk remedy for bronchial problems, working in much the same way as ginger. Ginger and the Digestion The most important and best known use of ginger is on the digestive system. It is the classical medicine for beating nausea, vomiting, poor digestion and indigestion, for protecting against stomach ulcers, and for assisting the absorption of foods and medi-cines into the body. Herbalists describe ginger as a 'stimulating carminative'. A carminative is a herb that calms and supports the digestion. It soothes the stomach, relieves gas, eases cramps, and generally encourages normal digestion and absorption. The carminative herbs all contain aromatic oils. Examples include the mint family, melissa and verbena (the French after-dinner tisane), caraway, fennel and aniseed (no restaurant in India, even the simplest roadside stall, would fail to give customers some aniseed after a meal), cinammon, ginger, and chamomile. According to the Western view, these herbs mostly work by relaxing the smooth muscles that make the digestive system work. They also relax the small muscles around the blood vessels of the stomach, bringing more blood to the stomach and improving its function. Improved circulation gathers up the gases, and speeds up digestion. It obvi-ously makes excellent sense to spice up our food with these herbs. In the Autumn of 1985, 80 healthy naval cadets boarded the Danish training ship 'Danmark' and sailed off to the mountainous seas of the Skagerrak. Not surprisingly, most were seasick. The doctor handed out seasickness pills. However the cadets didn't know that some contained a new medicine: powdered ginger, while others contained a placebo, or pretend medicine. The ginger halved the symptoms of nausea, vomiting and cold sweats compared to the placebo. This kind of study has been repeated several times, and has put ginger on the ma as the only serious natural remedy for motion sickness. It is well known that the con-ventional drugs against motion sickness, such as dramamine, work on the nervous centres in the brain that cause the upset, and can therefore make one drowsy and lethargic. So they cannot be used by car drivers, seamen, astronauts and those very people that need them the most. Nausea and vomiting can have a variety of causes besides motion sickness. Are there cases where ginger should not be used? Occasionally it is better to encourage vomiting rather than suppress it. If poisons or bad food produces the nausea, vomiting can be caused by the herb lobelia or by a teaspoonful of salt in a glass of water. In nervous cases, herbal treatment should be accompanied by relaxation, warming the body, and sleep, and perhaps here mint or chamomile tea would be better than ginger. Otherwise, ginger is very widely useful as it acts as an energising balm to the stomach itself, rather than on the brain centres as do modern drugs, and therefore the precise cause is not so relevant. For example ginger as tea, or capsules or tablets, is perhaps the most effective remedy for morning sickness during pregnancy. A recent clinical trial involving 30 women with the most severe kind of morning sickness, termed 'hyperemesis gravidarum', was reported in the European Journal of Obstetrics and Gynae-cology. It showed that 1 gram of powdered ginger per day greatly reduced the symptoms, and in some case eliminated them. A standardized ginger product, 'Zintona', is now undergoing morning sickness trials at the University of Alberta, supported by the Medi-cal Research Council of Canada. Remember, however, that in pregnancy the less remedies that are taken the better. Large amounts of spices rank as medicines and therefore should not be taken during pregnancy unnecessarily. Avoid excessive doses. It is also worth remembering that morn-ing sickness is not an inevitable and necessary curse. It is the result of some imbal-ances within the system, which allow accumulation of toxins from the foetus. The body becomes overloaded with waste products and tries to remove them by vomiting. Natural therapists and herbalists will often recommend nutritional support to improve the condi- tion of the blood. For example alfalfa, nettle, oats, kelp, pollen, spirulina and B complex can be of help. Nausea and vomiting can also occur as a side effect of drugs, poisons, anaesthet-ics or almost any toxins in the body. Ginger is highly effective in such cases. This is well illustrated in a remarkable study with 60 patients at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London, in which ginger was used against post-operative nausea and vomiting.20 pa-tients who were about to undergo major surgery were given ginger. Others were given the usual antinausea drug, or a pretend pill. Ginger was as effective as the conventional drug in reducing nausea in the recovery room. Surprisingly, none of the ginger group, in contrast to the others, needed more drugs to stop vomiting. The doctors were very excit-ed, because ginger is completely safe, and they are now checking to see if it can help the side effects of chemotherapy. Besides treating nausea and vomiting, ginger is one of the most important medi-cines, according to both the Indian and Oriental medical systems, for restoring thedigestive system, warming the stomach, aiding absorption of nutrients, and helping to prevent indigestion and stomach upsets. One of the main reasons why ginger is added to so many mixtures or prescriptions in Chinese or Indian traditional medicine is that it helps absorption of the other constituents. Ginger is often described as the messenger or servant that brings other medicines to the site at which they should act. There is in fact some preliminary scien- tific evidence from India that ginger can increase the absorption of certain drugs, andalso protect the stomach from damage by aspirin and other similar NSAID's (non-steroidanti-inflammatory drugs).This is a potentially fascinating use of ginger. If it could help with the ab-sorption of drugs, herbs, vitamins and nutritional components, it would mean that wecould reduce the dosage of drugs, or make them work more efficiently, and therefore more safely. It would mean better nutrition, if we combined our soups or our supplements with a little ginger, and it would mean that our much abused intestines would have a little protection from all the medicines and other stuff they have to cope with.The Tall Stately Ginger Plant You may never have seen fresh ginger. Although it is becoming more common in our supermarkets, many of you may have little more than an image of some brownish powder, smelling of dust and pungency, in a plastic bottle that has been sitting in the kitchenspice rack since time immemorial. Fresh ginger is an extraordinary sight. It is fleshy and bulbous and looks a bit like several small potatoes clumped together and then flattened. The main segments are about 80 cm. long, 40 cm. wide and 15 cm. thick. They bear fat branches about 20 cm long on the upper side, giving the whole the appearance of a hand with blunt stubby fingers.Indeed the technical term in the spice trade is a 'hand' for the whole, and 'fingers'for the branches. Fresh ginger is the rhizome (underground stem) of the ginger plant. The plant is tall and stately, with long spear-like leaves. Ginger does not usually flower, but when it does, it produces an exceptionally beautiful cluster of white or yellow flowers, flecked with purple, each held in a small green cup. The whole cluster appears on itsown long spiky stem, somewhat like a gladiolus Fresh ginger, when cut, produces a typically warm, spicy, refreshing aroma. It has a pungent, aromatic, lemony, and slightly bitter taste. Dried ginger is less fresh and lemony, and rather more warm, woody and pungent. This dried ginger is a shrivelledversion of the 'hands' of the fresh ginger. Ginger contains aromatic oils, which give it its flavour, and aromatic spicy, lemony taste. It also contains starches, antioxidants, vitamins and other useful compounds. However science has recently begun to catch up with ginger, showing that its medicinal potency lies not in its heady aromatic oils, but in special pungent compounds called 'gingerols' and 'shogaols'. These are present at 4 - 9% in dry ginger and give ginger its heating, pungency. Research has shown that it is these spicy compounds seem to be able to open the blood vessels, stimulate the heart and the circulation, relax the digestion, and zip across the stomach, helping absorption on the way. Ginger varies in its content of gingerols depending on how it is grown and where it comes from, with some types having inadequate amounts. The gingerols, and pungency, also degrade with long storage - that ancient spice powder on the back of the kitchen or supermarket shelves may not contain the pungent power to work properly as a medicine. These problems have now been solved, since for the first time it is now possible to find ginger products specifically designed as a medicine, in the chemists and health stores.They have a guaranteed amount of the gingerols in every dose.The best way to take ginger is, like most herbs, fresh and whole. You can try to obtain fresh ginger from your vegetable suppliers. Alternatively use dried ginger in whole 'hands' from an ethnic food store. You can grind the latter at home in a coffee grinder or mortar & pestle. However ground ginger from the supermarket might be very poor quali- ty, and very old. You can also purchase ginger capsules at your local health store. In that case, as with all herbs, you should look for sophisticated, scientifically controlled products marketed by the most reputable and expert company. Unquestionably, the best product would be a ginger 'phytopharmaceutical' which is standardised, that is guaranteed by analysis to contain a proper level of active ingredients. As the main active ingredients are pungent compounds, you should look on the packet for a promise that the product contains a given level of these. The gold standard medicinal ginger product is probably 'Zintona', since it is the only one which has these specifications and is backed by clinical studies. The usual dose is 1 gram of dried ginger. This is about one-fifth of a teaspoon of dried ginger. You can take up to 3 doses per day as necessary. In the case of fresh ginger, the equivalent dose would be 4 grams, or a flat teaspoonful. The Gingerbread Man Once there was a baker who made a beautiful ginger bread boy. He rolled a doughcontaining plenty of dry ginger; he put in raisins for eyes and for the row of buttons on his little waistcoat. He put the boy into the roaring oven. When the boy was done he took him out on his baker's shovel. The gingerbread boy was a crusty nutty brown co-lour, and smelt sweet, rich and aromatic. But as the baker was admiring him, the boy looked up and skipped off the shovel. He glanced back, cheekily. "I am the gingerbread boy and you can't catch me" he teased, and off he ran, with the baker running after him, apron flapping in the breeze. As he ran through the village the cat saw him, and called out "Stop! Stop!" for he smelt delicious. But the boy just ran on shouting "Run, Run, as fast as you can, you can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man! One by one all the domestic animals such as the cow and the cock, and eventually all the inhabitant of the village, tried to catch and eat the gingerbread boy, but they couldn't overtake him. If we look inside this well known folk tale, we can witness the mercurial charac-ter of ginger. It is aromatic and delicious, attracting all who catch a whiff of it as it passes by. It warms up all who take it (i.e. chase it) for they catch the same spirit of movement and are carried along by it. It is a picture of ginger moving fast through the body, overcoming obstacles, and warming up the system. If you thought that ginger was no more than a powdered spice that goes into gingerbread, you may be in for a pleasant surprise. Just as garlic has been discovered to be a medicinal food of major importance to our health, and one of Europe's most popular Over The Counter medicines, so it is becoming clear that ginger too has unique and valued medicinal properties. It should have a place not only in everyone's spice rack, but also in their medicine cabinet.
GINGER - THE ULTIMATE HOME REMEDY , by Dr. Stephen Fulder, has published by Souvenir Press, 43 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3PA 18th.