Zingiber officinale or ginger is from the Zingiberaceae family, which also includes turmeric, red ginger, shell ginger, and cardamom, and is also commonly known as African ginger, black ginger, bordia, hornroot, ingwer, and zenzero. The roots and rhizomes are cultivated from Asia, mainly China, India, and Japan, although it is now cultivated in Haiti, Jamaica, and Nigeria (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013; Ulbricht, 2010; Wichtl, 2004).
Ginger contains up to 50% starch; about 9% protein; 6 to 8% lipids, mostly triglycerides, phosphatidic acid, lecithin, and free fatty acids; 2% protease; 1 to 3% volatile oils, composed mostly of the sesquiterpenes bisabolene, zingiberene, and zingiberol; pungent principles; aromatic ketones or gingerols; niacin or vitamin B3, and vitamin A; and 4 to 10% oleoresins with gingerols, gingerdiols, gingerdiones, dihydrogingerdiones, and shogaols (Gale, 2014; Hoffman, 2003; Pizzorno & Murray, 2013; Wichtl, 2004). The most therapeutically potent component is gingerol, a volatile oil that reduces inflammation and gives ginger its pungency. It can be found in concentrations as high as 33% (Gale, 2014; Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
Chinese have been using ginger since the 4th century B.C. to treat stomachache, diarrhea, nausea, cholera, hemorrage, rheumatism, and toothache (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). The Greeks ate it after dinner as a digestive, and were credited for creating an early version of gingerbread, which involved wrapping a piece of ginger in bread (Gale, 2014). The English added it to beer “to soothe the stomach”, and in the 1800s it was made into powder and tea to treat “indigestion, gas, nausea, and infant diarrhea” (Gale, 2014, p. 995). Eclectic physicians from the 1800s in the United States (US) used ginger as a “carminative, diaphoretic, appetite stimulant, and local counterirritant” (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013, p. 1148).
Ginger has been used in Asian and Indian cuisines; as a spice in cooking in other cuisines, baked goods, and candies; in beverages such as ales, beer, ginger ale, infusions, liqueurs, and teas; in cosmetic products like creams, perfumes, and soaps; and in broths, capsules, lozenges, poultices, and powder (Gale, 2014; Hoffman, 2003; Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
Ginger is anti-emetic, cholagogic, digestive tonic, spasmolytic, and stomachic. It promotes saliva and gastric juices secretion, and increases peristalsis (Weiss & Fintelmann, 2000; Wichtl, 2004). It is used as a cardiovascular remedy, a carminative, diaphoretic, rubefacient, and an emmenagogue to stimulate menstruation (Hoffman, 2003)
Ginger has been used to treat motion sickness as well as morning sickness during pregnancy (Hoffman, 2003). It is an antimicrobial, has been used by Japanese to treat food poisoning, and can help treat ulcers caused by the bacteria Helicobacter pylori (Gale, 2014). Ginger tea is used to treat coughs (Gale, 2014). Ginger has stimulant action and encourages circulation, making it effective in treating rheumatic problems (Hoffman, 2003). Ginger poultices are used to treat knee pain and osteoarthritis inflammatory effects (Gale, 2014).
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers ginger as an herb that is Generally Recognized As Safe or GRAS (Wichtl, 2004). Ginger may cause miscarriages and is not recommended for pregnant women when consumed in amounts higher than adequate in daily food intake, or no more than 2 g per day (Gale, 2014; Hoffman, 2003). A suggested dose for healthy adults is 2 to 4 g per day (Stargrove, Treasure, & McKee, 2008). Large doses of 12 g or higher can cause gastric problems, heartburn, and ulcers (Gale, 2014; Hoffman, 2003). Ginger may reduce blood-clotting time, and interact with the digestion of blood thinners, digoxin, fat-soluble vitamins, iron, phenothiazines, sulfa drugs, and tetracycline (Gale, 2014). Specific dosages, possible contra-indicatory effects, and drug interactions should be reviewed with a health care provider.
Studies indicate that ginger has antioxidant, antihyperlipidemic, choleretic, cardiotonic, and gastrointestinal effects (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). It inhibits the synthesis of prostaglandins, thromboxane, and leukotriene, which make it an effective anti-inflammatory. Ginger inhibits platelet aggregation, has thermogenic properties, and antibacterial activity (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). Natural Medicines, formerly Natural Standard, provided a Grade B to evidence indicating ginger could treat nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. A grade B means there is good scientific evidence, but additional studies are needed to confirm the evidence (Ulbricht, 2010). Natural Medicines provided a grade C, indicating unclear or conflicting scientific evidence, for the use of ginger to treat migraine, motion sickness, nausea caused from chemotherapy, nausea and vomiting after surgery, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and urinary disorders; and for its action as an anti-platelet agent, to shorten labor, and to support weight loss (Ulbricht, 2010).
A German study from 1999 showed that ginger increased digestive movement (Gale, 2014), which is believed to be how ginger acts to reduce nausea and vomiting (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). In 1982, a study showed that 940 mg ginger was more effective than 100 mg of Dramamine in treating nausea and vomiting due to motion sickness (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). Ginger was tested on naval cadets and a dose of 1 g was found to reduce vomiting and cold sweating when sailing in heavy seas. Other studies showed that ginger reduced vertigo, nausea, and tachygastric activity (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). Evidence showed that 1 to 1.5 g of ginger daily was effective in treating nausea and vomiting after surgery. Also, ginger helped to alleviate nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
Even though there are conflicting indications about the use of ginger on pregnant women, low doses of ginger have decreased nausea and vomiting related to pregnancy (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). A dose of 250 mg taken four times per day reduced nausea and vomiting in 19 out of 27 women who were pregnant for less than 20 weeks. Other studies showed that ginger was as effective or more effective than vitamin B6 in treating nausea and vomiting during pregnancy (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
A study conducted from 3 months to 2.5 years with 28 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, 18 patients with osteoarthritis, and 10 patients with muscular discomfort, indicated that 500 to 1,000 mg daily of ginger helped relieve pain and swelling in 75% of the patients with either form of arthritis, and in 100% of the patients with muscular discomfort (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). Another study with 261 patients suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee showed that those who consumed ginger had less general pain, reduced knee pain after standing and walking, and a reduced need to take rescue medication, when compared to a control group (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
Ginger has varied uses and proven clinical effects. When consumed around 2 g per day it has great benefits to health.
Gale (2014). The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, (4th Ed). Farmington Hilla, MI: Gale Cengage Learning.
Hoffman, D. (2003). Medical Herbalism, The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
Pizzorno, J. E. & Murray, M. T. (2013). Textbook of Natural Medicine (4th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Churchill Livingstone.
Stargrove, M. B., Treasure, J., & McKee, D. L. (2008). Herb, Nutrient, and Drug Interactions: Clinical Implications and Therapeutic Strategies. St. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier.
Ulbricht, C. E. (2010). Natural Standard: Herb & Supplement Guide- An Evidence-Based Reference. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Mosby.
Weiss, R. F. & Fintelmann, V. (2000). Herbal Medicine: Second Edition, Revised and Expanded. Stuttgart: Thieme.
Wichtl, M. (Ed.). (2004). Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals: A Handbook for the Practice on a Scientific Basis, 3rd ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.