Welcome to the start of my new series "Herb of the Month"! There are so many amazing herbs out there that are easily accessible, affordable, and are loaded with health benefits that I figured this was a great way to educate and inspire people to adopt more plants into their lives. We are kicking off this series with an herb you have all probably seen and tasted at some point in your lives- ginger!
You may already be aware of the delicious flavor that ginger enhances many dishes with, but I hope that after reading this you will be intrigued and excited about all of the incredible benefits it has on your body systems, too! First, let's start off with some of the sciency lingo (if you are serious about learning herbs, these are must-knows!):
I chose ginger as the first herb in this series because it is rather non-threatening. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, the majority of us are already pretty familiar with it, know where to access it, and aren't afraid to experiment with it because it is not a "weird" plant (we will get to those in a few months!). As an herbalist it's important for us to know about plants characteristics because they affect how certain bodies and ailments will respond to the herb. For example:
So for example, ginger is heating, drying and relaxing. Therefore, someone with a pitta body constitution (someone with a "firey" digestive system and oftentimes personality- tend to run hot, can have red faces, get angry and irritable easily, have a very fast metabolism) may experience internal irritation from consuming ginger because they are already tend to run hot and it is a heating herb (whereas a cooling herb would bring them more balance). Make sense? If not, no worries, these concepts all take a lot of practice and will be better understood with time!
Herbs in different forms usually have different actions on the body due to chemical changes that happen to the constituents. For example, fresh ginger has more of a dispersive action in the body, it stimulates circulation in the body, moving it up and out through the skin. Dried ginger, on the other hand, is more centrally warming to the GI tract. So in what ways would you use these two different forms of ginger, you ask. Great question! If you had a fever and wanted to raise heat in the body to help circulate it out, then you may want to try fresh ginger. If you have a sluggish digestive system that you want to stimulate, dried ginger would help bring heat to the core to help get the job done.
Going back to fevers for a moment. Ginger is useful at raising fevers in a productive/safe way, which sounds counter-intuitive but it actually helps to stop the growth of invading viruses or bacteria, and destroys them with excess heat. It basically helps your body do a more efficient job at what it is already doing.
Ginger is an emmenagogue, which means that it can help bring on a sluggish or missing period. In a nutshell, the way that it works is that it brings heat to the pelvic region, enhancing the circulation and thus helps to relieve tension from the area. You could also rub a salve or paste made with ginger over your belly to help reduce cramps.
Now if you are wondering if this sounds like an herb that may not be suitable for pregnancy, think about what a staple ginger is in Asia. Do you think every pregnant woman there cut out ginger when they became pregnant? The answer is no! So have no fear, ginger does bring blood to the pelvic area, and this is actually a good thing to help bring nutrition to the growing fetus! Added bonus- it's great for nausea! If you are suffering from morning sickness try a ginger tincture, tea or some ginger chews and hopefully they will bring you some relief. (This goes for all types of nausea, ps, not just pregnancy!)
One of gingers healing properties is that it is considered an "anti-spasmodic" which means that it helps to relax tension in the body through its heating properties. When paired in a tea with chamomile, for example, the warming effects of the ginger plus the relaxing effects of chamomile are a great combination to help de-stress. If you are someone who suffers from tension headaches, cluster headaches, and/or migraines, or experience tension in the neck or shoulder area, you can drink some ginger tea or apply it topically since the warming effect can have a direct effect on relaxing the muscles.
Ginger brings heat and warmth into the lungs and the anti-spasmodic characteristic of it helps with coughs and colds. If you have a lot of phlegm in your throat, some warm cups of ginger tea throughout the day can help warm up the chest and stop cough spasms. However, it is important to note that it does *not* work by suppressing the body from coughing up phlegm because that is the bodies way of getting rid of junk and that is a good thing!
You can make a tea with dried ginger, or get fresh ginger, grate up 2-3 tbsp and add to boiling water, letting it infuse for 15 minutes. Try and drink it all while it is hot.
Another thing you can try for a cough and cold is applying a ginger and honey compress to your chest. Click here for the recipe!
Ginger helps stimulate agni, which is an Ayurvedic term to describe our inner fire or metabolism. Ginger helps stimulate the metabolism and can help with relieving gas and bloating. In Ayurveda, dried ginger is also believe to have a direct impact on meda, or body fat, due to its ability to enhance digestion. If you are a kapha or vata type person, starting your day with a little fresh ginger in warm or hot water is a good way to rev up your metabolism for the day.
Paste: a paste made of ginger can be used for painful joints and sinus headaches
Oil: can help with congestion when rubbed on the chest
Candy: ginger candy is great to chew on when experiencing nausea
Raw: chew (don't swallow) on a quarter size piece to help with nausea, add some raw ginger to vegetables when cooking, add to a Fire Cider recipe
Tincture: infuse dried ginger in alcohol or ACV for 2 weeks to one month, strain and bottle. Great for nausea!
Tea: helps with digestion, enhances circulation, alleviates stomach pain, reduces inflammation, helps with menstural related discomfort
A few cups of ginger a day, a couple tincture doses, or when used moderately in cooking is fine, but too much ginger can have a blood-thinning effect. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but something to be mindful about if having a surgery scheduled. You will want to ease up on the ginger a week prior. Also, for women with super heavy periods, ginger *may* stimulate it even more, so just be mindful of that.
Pitta people and people with acidic stomachs may find that ginger irritates their gut.
STAY TUNED FOR FUTURE ARTICLES ON DIFFERENT WAYS TO UTILIZE GINGER IN YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE !