By Elaine Everitt BSc (Hons) DO LicAc - Medical Herbalist, Osteopath, and Acupuncturist.
Ginger has a few key actions that make it such an amazing and useful herb. Not only is it well known for its anti-nausea and digestive properties, but it’s also an anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, a circulatory stimulant, and appetite stimulant.
Ginger as a digestive aid
Ginger eases digestion and helps to reduce gut inflammation. It can help with intestinal cramping, bloating and gas, and when consumed after a meal can help our body to more easily digest (Wood, 2007).
When we find ourselves in the midst of a cold, dark winter, we often seek to comfort ourselves with rich, heavy foods. This is of course indicated by the large fat-laden meals, creamy soups, and rich desserts we crave this time of year.
Like other carminatives, ginger is rich in aromatic volatile oils that ease digestion and soothe the wall of the GI tract, ease cramping in the intestines, reduce gut inflammation, and help expel gas from the digestive tract.
Especially when consumed after a meal, it can help our ability to digest with efficiency and help reverse the lethargy that often stems from indulgent eating.
Ginger is known by many to be a powerful herb against nausea. Several studies have found that ginger is more effective than over-the-counter medications for nausea, motion sickness, and seasickness (Gladstar 2012). Studies have even shown it to be effective for morning sickness in pregnancy and for chemotherapy-induced nausea (Ozgoli et al., 2009; Ernst and Pittler, 2000).
Ginger relieves inflammation
When we continually breathe in artificially produced heat and fight off an ongoing barrage of viral infections, we may find ourselves with an inflamed throat. Sore throats in the wintertime are abundant and ginger, is a time tested remedy for inflammation and wintertime sniffles.
Ginger can also help reduce pain and swelling, and can been applied externally to painful joints and those suffering from arthritis (Holford, 2004). Pippettes Dispensary Six Spice Balm is a warming soothing muscle balm that helps relieve aching and sore joints.
Ginger helps relieve Congestion
Ginger is a warming, decongesting herb that is beneficial for colds and flus, respiratory congestion, and sore throats (Gladstar 2012).
Taking powdered ginger with hot water and honey can be a source of comfort and restoration for the throat. Just as ginger is a staple of herbal remedies, runny noses and other indications of congestion are staples of winter. In Ayurveda, ginger is used for Kaphic conditions like congestion and runny noses. Ginger’s antiviral actions include stimulating macrophage activity, preventing viruses from attaching to cell walls, and acting as a virucide. (Buhner, 2013) It’s an all-around warming immunostimulant that is delicious and useful in daily teas in cold and flu season.
In his book Herbal Antivirals, Stephen Harrod Buhner provides a recipe for Fresh Ginger Juice Tea, which he recommends drinking 4-6 cups of daily when dealing with a virus. This spicy beverage made with ginger and cayenne is not for the faint hearted – it will warm you from your head to your toes! It’s been further adapted by The Herbal Academy who make this as a blended drink at room temperature to preserve the antiseptic properties of the honey and add a touch of Liquorice for synergy and an extra antiviral kick. Here’s their take on Buhner’s recipe which we love.
Spiced Ginger-Lime Juice
Adapted from Herbal Antivirals by Stephen Harrod Buhner
A few thumb-sized pieces fresh ginger
6-8 ounces water
½ or one whole fresh lime, peeled and juiced
Raw honey, to taste
20 drops liquorice tincture 1:3* (optional at 3x/day)
Tiniest pinch of cayenne
- Add water, lime juice, honey, and cayenne to blender.
- Blend on high until ginger is juiced and combined.
- Pour liquid through sieve to strain out fibrous material, squeezing down on sieve contents to extract all juice.
- Add licorice tincture if desired and drink!
Safety: Moderate use of ginger may help with morning sickness but large doses should be avoided by pregnant women. Ginger is an emmenagogue and may stimulate early or increased menstruation in some women.
*Liquorice should not be used at high doses for long periods and should be avoided by those with hypertension, pregnancy, hypokalemia (low potassium), or hypernatremia (high sodium).
A great way to enjoy the flavour and benefits of ginger is to make it into a medicinal syrup. It's simple to make, keeps well for whenever you might need it, and surprisingly delicious.
I recommend using fresh root ginger, as it is usually quite easy to find in the produce section of most grocery stores, and it imparts a better flavour than dried ginger. If the ginger is organic it's not necessary to peel the outer skin, otherwise, it’s probably better if it is peeled.
Honey has the added benefit of being anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal, so can make this syrup even more powerful. If raw honey is used, it is important to let the ginger concentrate cool completely before adding it, in order to preserve the honey’s benefits. The amount of sugar or honey you use will vary depending on how sweet you want the syrup to be. One cup will make a heavy syrup, and one-half cup a light syrup.
1 cup thinly sliced fresh ginger root
1 cinnamon stick (optional)
2 cups water
½ – 1 cup honey or raw honey
- Combine ginger, cinnamon stick (if using), water, and sugar (if you are using honey, it will be added later) in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to a simmer until the liquid has reduced by half, about 30-45 minutes.
- Strain out the ginger. If you used sugar then your syrup is finished and you can skip to storage.
- Let the syrup cool to room temperature, then stir in the honey (if using).
- Store in a glass jar in the fridge. The syrup will keep for a month or more. Yields about 2 cups of finished ginger syrup.
The best part about this ginger syrup is that it’s health-promoting and great tasting, so it can be used as a delicious food as well as a powerful medicine.
It’s delicious stirred into porridge, smoothies or yogurt. It could also be used in place of traditional pancake syrup, used in marinades and sauces, or simply as a cocktail flavouring.
To use ginger syrup for its health benefits, you can take a spoonful if you’re coming down with a cold, if you’re nauseous, or if you’re suffering from sluggish digestion. It’s also wonderful stirred into a hot herbal tea. Try adding it to Pippettes Protection or Digestion teas.
My favorite way to use ginger syrup is to stir it into sparkling mineral water. This makes a natural ginger ale drink that settles the stomach and tastes good at the same time. Healthy, healing, and delicious!
Buhner, Stephen Harrod. Herbal Antivirals. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2013.
Ernst. E and Pittler, MH; Efficacy of ginger for nausea and vomiting: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Br J Anaesth, 84(3):367-71, 2000.
Ginger Monograph, The Herbarium (requires sign up)
Holford, Patrick. The New Optimum Nutrition Bible. New York: Crossing Press, 2004.
Lad, Vasant. Ayurveda. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press, 1984
Ozgoli, G., Goli, M., Simbar, M; Effects of ginger capsules on pregnancy, nausea, and vomiting. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(3):243-246, 2009.
Three Reasons to Eat Ginger During Wintertime, Herbal Academy, 2017.