scientific name: Zingiber officinale
other common names: Gengibre, gingembre
growing areas: China, Jamaica, southwestern parts of
the United States, Hawaii physical description: Ginger is a perennial plant that produces a thin stem about 3 feet long, with leaves that are thin and pointed. It produces a purple flower that looks like an orchid. Its thick rhizome is the most important part of the plant.
traditional uses: Ginger has been recognized as an important plant in Chinese medicine for centuries and is mentioned in two-thousand-year-old medical books. It was valued for its medicinal and culinary uses, serving as both a seasickness remedy for sailors and a pungent-tasting condiment. The ability of ginger to act as an antiemetic, a substance that relieves stomach upset, has been a key to its use by humans over the centuries. It is also used to treat diarrhea, nausea, and arthritis, and as an appetite stimulant. It is widely used in Jamaica, Mexico, and India for medicinal and other purposes, including as a spice and in beverages and candies. availability and dosage: Ginger is widely available in the United States as a liquid extract, powder, tablets, and capsules. Gingerroot and ginger tea can also be obtained in food stores. Dosages vary, and some herbalists maintain that a 12-ounce glass of ginger ale, assuming it is made from real ginger, will have the same remedial effect on motion sickness that a 1,200-milligram dose of powder has.
contraindications: Some experts recommend that it not be used, except under medical supervision, by people who are receiving anticoagulants. They also caution against pregnant women using ginger.
special precautions: Consult your physician before beginning any use of an ethnobotanical substance for medicinal purposes.
In their professional handbook on alternative and complementary medicine, Juan R. Avila and Charles W. Fetrow, both pharmacists, say there is no consensus on what the proper dosage is for ginger. They also advise pregnant women not to use it.
medical research: A great deal of the research into ginger and its medicinal properties has focused on its antiemetic and antinausea effects. According to a study published in the British medical journal Lancet, ginger seemed to be more effective than some standard drugs in treating motion sickness and dizziness. According to the Lancet results, volunteers who took ginger were able to endure artificially created seasickness (from a mechanical rocking chair) 57 percent longer than those who used Dramamine.
Ginger is also seen as being useful for controlling and relieving the nausea that can result from cancer chemotherapy. Researchers in India in 1997 tested the ability of ginger extract to alleviate the gastrointestinal distress associated with chemotherapy. The researchers fed laboratory rats an extract of ginger in varying doses before giving the animals cisplatin, an anticancer chemical. The test results showed that ginger was able to increase the rate at which the rats' stomachs emptied, leading the researchers to conclude that ginger may relieve the abdominal symptoms associated with chemotherapy.
Additional studies using acetone extracts of ginger in laboratory rats showed that two constituents of the plant, known collectively as gingerol, were responsible for increased bile production in the animals. This indicated that extracts of gingerroot can play an important role in digestion and food absorption.