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.