It can feel like a hostile world out there. It seems like every other day that I read about a new substance, product or pollutant that threatens my family with cancer, toxicity or liver damage. Gone are the days when I drank water from free-flowing streams as a child and ate wilderness snow without fear. From packaged foods to pharmaceutical (some of them very necessary) to the very air we can't help but breathe, carcinogens and toxins are everywhere.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if you had a strong and comforting defender that could protect you and your family from many of these hazards. Research is showing that you might have just such a friend, and unlike so many herbs I feature here, this is one you can buy fresh at most grocery stores.
That's right. The knobbly root that you may have overlooked as a nice spice, tea or at most an addition to Tai soup has some serious defending and comforting powers. Not all of the uses are fully understood yet and the research is ongoing. But there are a couple of things you can be sure of.
Ginger's easy and proven home remedies extend to:
- Ginger tea for coughs, colds and flu: I used to think I just loved the taste and warming feel of ginger when I had a cold or the flu. As it turns out ginger also eases coughs and fights many respiratory viruses. Not only is ginger tea (made by grating fresh ginger root into a cup of hot water) a good idea (and delicious) for coughs and colds, ginger syrup and even tincture can help too.
- Ginger syrup, ginger candy or fresh ginger root as a food for stomach troubles and nausea: Ginger is most famous among herbalists for being a nausea calmer.As the results of scientific studies come in, we are finding out that it isn't just nausea it helps with. It helps to heal difficult-to-treat-stomach ulcers through antimicrobial activity. It is specifically helpful for nausea during pregnancy and for post-operative and chemotherapy-induced nausea. Of course, it also helps many children with motion sickness, though not all children can handle enough of the spicy taste.
- Ginger tea or powdered ginger root for menstrual cramps: Ginger tea (made with grated fresh ginger root) can be a great help with menstrual cramps of the inflammatory variety. I've read that some preparations of powdered ginger root are as powerful as Ibuprofen in mitigating cramps, but I always take any preparation I can't make myself at home with a large grain of salt, because buying herbal preparations from non-local sources is always a gamble. You might get lucky and find ginger root powder that is fresh enough and as effective as the studies show it can be, but you could easily buy over-processed and aged preparations and have nothing. For now, I stick to a combination of yarrow tincture and ginger tea for cramps.
- Ginger essential oil aroma therapy for post-operative and chemotherapy induced nausea: Several studies have shown that women who underwent chemotherapy for the treatment of breast cancer used ginger aromatherapy effectively to curb resulting nausea. Another study has found similarly beneficial effects for patients experiencing nausea after operations.
- Ginger tea or powder for migraine headaches: Ginger tea can be a great comfort for migraines. A study has found that ginger root powder (if properly stored and kept fresh) can be as powerful as pharmaceutical migraine medications.
- Ginger tincture for muscle soreness and inflammation: Ginger is strongly anti-inflammatory and it has been taken by competitive athletes in many countries to reduce the wear and tear of training. It can also help with joint and muscle inflammations and strain.
There is exciting research showing new areas where ginger shows great potential, but it is less clear in these areas how a homecrafting herbalist could make the right kind of herbal extract from ginger to achieve these effects. It is very likely that with some experimentation and work we will soon be able to tap into the amazing protective qualities of ginger.
- Ginger treating diabetes: Ginger extracts are being used in trials to treat type 2 diabetes in people and type 1 diabetes in animals. Ginger powder and extracts have been studied in several trails and found to be effective against type 2 diabetes and found to be an "effective treatment." Considering the number of studies in this area, it is too bad that there isn't more information on the use of dietary ginger or ginger tea to treat diabetes.
- Ginger fighting cancer: Ginger extracts have been shown to be effective in treating many types of cancer, particularly in animal studies. Some of the specific types treated by ginger are liver, pancreatic, gastrointestinal, skin, lung, prostate and breast cancers. Ginger has been shown to stunt the growth of cancer sells and prevent the spreading of cancers to other areas of the body. Ginger has been found to assist in treating cancers that are chemo-resistant or inoperable. It is particularly interesting, given that almost all studies are done with powdered ginger root, that some of the compounds most helpful in treating cancer in ginger are best accessed when the root is steamed (i.e. made into tea rather than dried and powdered). And yet, we don't know exactly what does are needed in these treatments because studying a simple tea wouldn't make for an expensive drug and high profits.
- Ginger helping with chemotherapy: In addition to the aromatherapy studies, ginger extracts have been found to significantly reduce post-chemo nausea.
- Ginger protecting against radiation: Several studies have shown treatment with ginger extracts before exposure to radiation helped reduce the risks to animals (including severe radiation sickness and death) of the exposure.
- Ginger helping the brains of middle-aged women: Due to its amazing antioxidant qualities ginger extracts have been used in studies to protect against oxidative stress that causes mild cognitive impairment in many healthy women. The medical industry isn't particularly interested in studying how fresh ginger tea compares to the expensive ginger extracts used in such studies, but the amounts of the compounds involved suggest tea may work just as well.
- Ginger preventing Alzheimer's: Ginger root extract has been used to prevent Alzheimer's symptoms in animals. More study is needed but the right compounds are present in ginger and it clearly would make a good supplemental treatment at the very least.
- Ginger wiping out microbes: Ginger extracts have been shown to have a lot of antimicrobial power in test tubes. It's not entirely clear how it can be applied to daily use in the right concentrations.
- Ginger battling HIV and other dangerous human viruses: Some studies have shown ginger to be effective in the fight against difficult-to-treat viruses that infect humans. However, these studies have mainly been done on animals or in test tubes. So, it isn't clear how to replicate these results at home.
It's great to see so much scientific research being done with a medicinal herb. On the other hand, one of the significant problems with medical studies in this day and age is the bias of profit margins. Even if a simple herbal tea has fantastic and easily demonstrable effects, you aren't likely to find a study proving that it does because that would cut into the profits of the pharmaceutical companies that finance such studies..Many of the studies show that a small amount of ginger powder has a great effect, but there is no study on using fresh ginger or ginger tincture, which are much more easily obtained by individuals and less easily marketed as an expensive "dietary supplement" or pharmaceutical. At the same time, some of the best medicinal compounds in ginger are best accessed when the root is steamed, rather than dried. It is possible that ginger tea is actually more effective, despite the lack of studies looking into it. It is important to remember that while the presence of favorable scientific studies is a good sign, the absence of scientific studies isn't proof of a lack of usefulness. It is often a sign that a medicinal is too easy to use at home and thus not a good bet for marketing.
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