Ginger – getting to the root of the matter

Barbara Wilson

Ginger is one of our favourite culinary flavourings and one of the most potent natural medicines around. Chinese herbalists have used ginger for more than 2500 years and it was also known by early Greeks and North Americans for its medicinal properties.

It is the root or rhizome which is used both to give flavour to food and to control nausea and inflammation. Ginger acts as a digestive aid through the action of gingerols and shogaols, substances which neutralize excess stomach acids, enhance secretion of digestive juices, stimulate appetite and tone the muscles of the digestive tract. Unlike modern medicines which act on the nervous system, ginger acts directly on the digestive system and won’t cause drowsiness Through these actions, taking ginger can:

· Relieve nausea and heartburn

· Lessen flatulence

· Reduce dizziness

· Alleviate motion sickness

· Ease muscle aches and pains

· Ease the pain of rheumatoid arthritis

· Soothe menstrual cramps

· Treat chronic pain

· Lower cholesterol levels

· Limit the symptoms of colds, allergies and respiratory problems

To reap the benefits of ginger, sip ginger ale or ginger tea – steep sliced ginger in boiling water for a few minutes and add honey to taste. This can also be cooled and diluted with sparkling mineral water.

For aches and pains, a ginger bath is just the thing – boil an inch of ginger in a pint of water, strain and add the water to your bath. Massage ginger oil into sore muscles or rheumatic aches for pain relief.

People with gallstones should consult their doctor before dramatically increasing their ginger intake. Pregnant women should treat morning sickness or nausea for no more than the first 2 months of their pregnancy and avoid taking more than 1g of ginger daily.

The aromatic flavour of ginger is well suited to Asian cookery such as curry and chilli. A piece of ginger can be added to freshly pressed fruit or vegetable juice – it works especially well with carrots, apples and pears, and it adds a depth of flavour to stir-fries.

If you don’t intend to use the whole ginger root, peel it, cut into 1 inch pieces, wrap in cling film and store it in the freezer – grate the frozen ginger directly into your cooking and pop the rest back into the freezer.

Malaysian fish curry

This is a great recipe for a spicy fish dish. I have suggested you use cod here but you can really use any fish you like – a mixture of white fish with a few prawns and mussels is good. If you are using oily fish, remember that the fat and calorie count will increase but you will get all the benefits that oily fish have to offer. Use chicken if you are not fond of fish and change the spices to suit your own taste or what’s available.

1 400 ml cans of reduced fat coconut milk
½ pint (250 ml) of skimmed milk
1 kg white fish such as cod
1 onion
1 ½ inch piece ginger, peeled and finely sliced
1 ½ inch piece of lemon grass, outer leaves removed, crushed
1 ½ inch piece of galangal, peeled and chopped
3 large red chillies, deseeded and sliced
6 blanched almonds, chopped
½ tsp turmeric

Place all the ingredients for the curry paste (ginger, lemon grass, galangal, chilli, almonds and turmeric) into a blender or processor. Add 6 tbs coconut milk and blend to form a paste. Pour the paste into a large saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring continuously.

Add the rest of the coconut milk and the skimmed milk, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes or until the volume has reduced by half. Add the fish pieces and simmer for a further 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve with boiled rice and green vegetables.

Makes 6 servings. Nutritional information: 235kcal and 11.7g fat per serving

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