Earlier this year, I was asked to appear with Nigel Slater on a radio programme dedicated to the health benefits and joys of juicing. In the studio, Nigel whipped us up a concoction which, in addition to a cornucopia of fruit and veg, contained the juice from a generous knob of ginger. Our Nige described ginger as the 'wake-up' spice, which made me think it might be the perfect addition to my usual morning blend of juiced beetroot, apples and carrots.
Ginger has taken pride of place in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2,500 years. As a rule, remedies that stand this sort of test of time usually have something going for them. So this week I thought I'd take a look to see what my daily dose of ginger might be doing for me, and what is at the root of its ancient reputation as a herbal healer.
One system in the body on which ginger seems to exert considerable effect is the circulation. Tests show that ginger counteracts the clumping together or clotting components called platelets. This blood-thinning effect (similar to that of aspirin) is good news for the body, as it inhibits the formation of tiny blood clots which can plug arteries and cut off the blood supply to parts of the heart or brain.
Tests carried out on animals have also revealed that ginger can bring down the levels of unhealthy blood fats, such as triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood, and can delay the furring-up process in our arteries known as atherosclerosis. These effects, coupled with its blood-thinning action, mean that ginger is likely to offer very real protection from the circulatory shutdown that precipitates heart attacks and strokes.
Another of ginger's boons for the body is its ability to quell nausea and vomiting. It is reputed that the ancient Chinese mariners would slip a slice of ginger between their lip and gum to avert seasickness. More recently, scientific studies have shown that ginger can indeed ward off nausea, with most benefit seemingly achieved if this natural remedy is first taken a couple of hours prior to the journey. Ginger has also been found to be a useful treatment for other forms of travel sickness, and for morning sickness too: 250mg of ginger extract (supplements are available in health food stores), taken four times a day, appears to be the effective dose.
Traditionally, ginger is said to have a 'warming' effect in the body and may therefore boost the circulation in the extremities.
A regular intake of this fiery spice may boost the heat in our hands and feet, and help to counteract the plummeting temperatures typical at this time of year. Ginger may be added to food and juices, though an alternative is to drink tea made from steeping freshly sliced or grated root ginger in hot water. Now I know a bit more about its benefits for the body, I'm jolly glad to have woken up to ginger.