Ginger: Ayurveda’s Best Kept Secret

Ginger is a bit of a conundrum for not only does it ease constipation and improve digestion, it also is a great tool to fight against bloating, indigestion, and even diarrhea. So basically it’s one all-rounder spice, being good for the digestive system on the whole. And this healthy spice has plenty other benefits to be reaped as well.

The Origins of Adraka in Ayurveda

The English name ginger is derived from the Latin term ‘zingiberi’ which originally came from the Sanskrit term ‘singabera’ -- aka the horn of antlers. This, of course, referred to the shape of the ginger rhizome.

When it comes to the qualities of (fresh) ginger, Ayurveda lists out many beneficial ones in a sutra, the gist of what is:

  1. Rochaka: stimulates the appetite
  2. Deepana: improves digestive strength
  3. Vrushya: is an aphrodisiac
  4. Vibandha: prevents and resolves constipation
  5. Katu: has a pungent taste
  6. Ushna: Is hot and effective in potency
  7. Guru: is a heavy spice
  8. Rooksha: is drying
  9. Madhura Vipaka: undergoes sweet taste conversion after digestion
  10. Hrudya: acts as cardiac tonic, congenial for heart
  11. Ruchida: improves taste and is useful in relieving anorexia
  12. Shophahara: relieves swelling or edema and is anti-inflammatory
  13. Kaphahara: balances Kapha, useful in a phlegmy cough and asthma
  14. Kantamayaapaha: Useful in throat disorders
  15. Svarya: improves voice and gives a clearer tone
  16. Vibandhahara: Relieves constipation
  17. Anahahara: relieves bloating and flatulence
  18. Shoolajit: relieves abdominal or colic pain
  19. Bhedini: relieves constipation
  20. Jihva Vishodhana: cleanses and clears tongue and removes the white coating
  21. Kaphavatahara: balances Kapha and Vata doshas to ideal levels
  22. Shwasahara: useful in the treatment of asthma and chronic respiratory disorders
  23. Kasahara: useful in alleviating a cough and cold
  24. Vamihara: relieves vomiting and eases nausea
  25. Hikkahara: cures hiccups

So basically, eating fresh ginger just before meals or even during meals enhances digestion. In Ayurvedic terms, it stokes the digestive fire but also whets the appetite, improves assimilation and transportation of nutrients to targeted body tissues, and clears the microcirculatory channels of the body. Traditional Ayurvedic texts recommend ginger for therapeutic use for joint pain, motion or air sickness, which modern science, by way of worldwide research, ratifies. Ginger balances out the Kapha and Vata doshas of your body – thereby reducing flatulence, acidity, and improper digestion, as well as alleviating allergies, seasonal coughs, cold and congestion.

How To Eat Ginger

  • My ma often used to quick pickle ginger to be had before or during meals. She would wash and wipe dry raw ginger, scrape off any rough parts and then julienne them. She would then salt the julienned ginger and let it air dry for 20-30 minutes. By this time, the ginger would have turned pink. She would then bottle it up and juice a lemon over it. A good shake and into the refrigerator it went to chill. Crunchy, salty, lemony ginger made for a good appetizer and a great accompaniment to heavier meals.
  • If you can eat raw ginger, great -- but if you find ginger a bit tough or hot to eat by itself then try adding two or three thin slices to your dishes as they cook. Or you can always make a ginger-garlic broth.
  • You can also sauté some grated ginger in a tablespoon of ghee and add the mixture to dishes as a tadka.
  • Another way to enjoy ginger is to make a ginger tea, adding further restorative herbs and spices like basil, lemon, and even honey to sweeten the concoction.
  • The dry ginger powder is equally beneficial as well. One teaspoon of dry ginger powder (3-5g) taken at bedtime with a glass of warm water has plenty benefits too – reduces cholesterol, improves digestion, makes your heart healthy, and even helps you whittle off those extra pounds.

10 Beneficial Uses of Ginger As Per Ayurveda & Modern Science

  1. For Immunity: Call it grandma’s remedy but drinking ginger with lemon and honey is a popular cold and flu remedy the world over. Ginger also has thermogenic properties, so it can warm up the body in the cold and, more importantly, promotes healthy sweating. This heat-induced sweating comprises a potent germ-fighting agent called dermcidin and stays on the surface of the skin where it works to provide protection against bacteria like E. coli and fungi like Candida.
  2. For Digestion: Ginger has carminative properties that help eliminate the natural gases of digestion and so it helps to prevent bloating and flatulence. It also has spasmolytic properties that relax the GI muscles and soothe any stomachaches and pains.  Such is its efficacy that it is often used to treat colic in children and also can help alleviate the symptoms of diarrhea and food poisoning.
  3. For Nausea: Be it your garden variety motion sickness, morning sickness in pregnant women, or even debilitating nausea that is a staple enemy of chemotherapy, ginger always reduces the severity of nausea.
  4. For Inflammation: A very potent anti-inflammatory compound called gingerol in ginger makes it very good to alleviate joint and muscle pain. A study shows that ginger starts to heal inflammation at a cellular level and is potent enough to be at par with NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). While eating ginger works, as do medicines derived from it, applying ginger oil on achy joints and muscles is great therapy too.
  5. For Pain Relief: Since ginger reduces bloating and inflammation, it works as good pain relief for migraine headaches and menstrual cramps. Drinking ginger tea at the onset of a migraine attack stifles prostaglandins which then blocks the pain and also alleviates nausea. It also reduces the pain associated with dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation) and is effective in controlling accompanying diarrhea or bloating.
  6. For Diabetes: Ginger is proving to be an effective tool in glycemic control for people with type 2 diabetes. One clinical trial has concluded that diabetic patients that consumed three grams of dry ginger for 30 days had a significant reduction in blood glucose, triglyceride, and in total and LDL cholesterol levels – good news for all! Basically, ginger works on diabetes by stimulating insulin release and increasing insulin sensitivity along with improving a person’s overall health.
  7. For the Heart: Ginger has plenty of potassium, manganese, chromium, magnesium, and zinc, and it goes a long way in proving longevity to the heart. Many studies have shown positive results in that the unique temperament of ginger's compounds lower cholesterol and prevent artery narrowing, thereby regulating blood pressure and improving blood flow: all of which helps reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
  8. For the Respiratory System: Certain studies have indicated that ginger has the ability to treat respiratory conditions including asthma as it clears the micro-circulatory systems of the body and heals inflammation at a cellular level.  
  9. For Longevity: We all know that antioxidants are extremely important as they provide protection against free radicals, which helps reduce skin aging and many degenerative diseases that come with aging, such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and more. Ginger is an extra-potent antioxidant since it contains 25 different antioxidant properties on its own!
  10. For Cancer Prevention: Many studies have pointed out that ginger is rather effective in killing off cancer cells. When cancer cells come in contact with ginger, they tend to commit suicide (apoptosis) or start attacking each other (autophagy). Till date ginger has been linked to a future cure for various cancers, namely ovarian, breast, prostate, colon, rectal, liver, lung, and pancreatic cancer as well as melanomas. 

So, boil it down in any way and ginger is a great tool to remain in good health. Do go ahead and include bits of it in your daily diet – sip on ginger tea, add some to your curries or desserts and gulp down half a teaspoon of dry ginger powder at night with a glass of warm water. It will give you good digestion and better circulation, and drive away those pesky allergies too. Ginger up, says Ayurveda.