Ginger, the dried, pulverized “warm” spice in a jar has been in most of our pantries for as long as we can remember. Perhaps it only made an appearance once a year at Christmastime to make the ubiquitous Gingerbread or, in some households, as flavoring in traditional Christmas puddings. We’ve only come to know the fresh item, that hand-shaped rhizome, for the last twenty years or so as we learned to grate it into many imported authentic Asian dishes, frequently paired with garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce, honey, and possibly a variety of spicy pepper.
A member of the zingiberaceae family along with cardamom and turmeric, and several ornamentals used in our gardens, ginger has been known for its healing powers by many cultures for at least 2500 years. Of course, most of us with an interest in holistic health are familiar with the common therapeutic uses for ginger, mostly as a digestive aid conferring its relief-giving properties to nausea, even that related to cancer therapy, bloating, indigestion and other stomach upsets, even morning sickness and menstrual cramps, flatulence, and motion sickness. It can be useful in several of its common forms, especially effective as crystallized ginger. But, did you know of its many other traditional therapeutic applications in other parts of the world?
It is often used to treat upper respiratory ailments such as bronchitis and other infection, and cough. In some regions it is typically used for relief of pain and muscle ache from strain, injury, and even rheumatoid arthritis. Ginger juice may be applied topically to treat and help heal burns and other dermatological ailments and relieve itching and swelling.
Serious academic research into the active components of ginger and their clinical applications has been funded and pursued by respected institutions with great zeal over the past decade. Some of the initial findings have been quite encouraging. For instance, it has been demonstrated that:
Ovarian cancer cells exposed to a ginger solution had all died in almost every study of its kind.
A study of the treatment of hypertension at the Chiang Mai University in Thailand revealed a ginger component to be more effective in lowering blood pressure than the commonly used prazosin hydrochloride by, on average, over 35%.
In a study of migraine treatment a randomized double blind clinical trial of ginger powder as compared to Imitrex (sumatriptin) found the ginger to be equally effective in pain relief but exhibited far fewer side effects.
At Columbia University Medical Center in NYC it was discovered that when one to three specific purified components of ginger were chemically bound to isoproterenol, there was greater relaxation of Airway Smooth Muscle tissue when administered to asthma patients undergoing active spasm of the airway.
There are many more examples of ongoing studies showing potential benefits from the clinical use of ginger and they are being pursued more enthusiastically every year. Whatever the medicinal or therapeutic value we may derive from ginger, most of us will still find one of its most pleasurable uses to be in feeding our friends and families. If they strike your fancy, please give these family favorites a try:
Curried Sweet Potato Coconut Ginger Soup
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 4 C full fat, unsweetened coconut milk
2 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil 1 Tbsp. lime zest
4 cloves garlic, minced 1/2 C lime juice (more at end to taste)
1 1/2 Tbsp. ginger root, minced 1/4 C sliced scallions
1 Tbsp. curry powder 1/4 C chopped cilantro
5# sweet potatoes, unpeeled 1 tsp good salt, or more to taste
if organic (about 4 large) 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, optional
4 C water or vegetable broth
In a soup kettle, gently warm the oils. Add the garlic, ginger & curry powder and stir for about 2 minutes. Scrub sweet potatoes, trim ends, cut into chunks. Put sweet potatoes, water & coconut milk into kettle. Turn up heat slightly and bring near to a boil. Turn down heat, cover kettle and simmer on low for 20-30 minutes until sweet potatoes are soft. Add lime zest. Add lime juice and stir.
Turn off flame and let soup sit 5 minutes so flavors meld. Remove kettle from stove. Using a Vitamix (preferred), a blender or a food processor puree soup in batches. Add each batch to a clean soup kettle. (I found it easier and as effective to use a hand-held immersion blender.) Add scallions & cilantro, good salt & pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve in warmed bowls and savor the ginger as it soothes and warms your core!
My thanks for this delicious repast to Debra of DEBRA'S NATURAL GOURMET in West Concord, MA!
Ginger Crème Brulee
4 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. minced fresh ginger
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. granulated sugar
1 Tbs. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. table salt
10 large egg yolks
Put the cream, ginger, 1/4 cup of the sugar, the vanilla, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Cover, remove from the heat, and steep for 20 minutes.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Put twelve 4-oz. ramekins or teacups in a roasting pan or baking dish that's at least as deep as the ramekins.
In a medium bowl, whisk the yolks and 1/4 cup of the sugar until smooth and combined. Lightly whisk about 1/2 cup of the warm cream mixture into the yolk mixture and then gradually whisk in the remaining cream mixture. Stir rather than whip with the whisk—you don't want a frothy mixture, or the baked custards will have a foamy-looking surface. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a large Pyrex measuring cup or a heatproof bowl with a spout.
Divide the custard among the ramekins. Slowly pour hot water from the kettle into the baking pan (don't get any water in the ramekins) until it comes about two-thirds of the way up the sides of the ramekins. Carefully transfer the pan to the oven and bake until the custards are set around the edges but still slightly jiggly (like Jell-O) in the center, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer the ramekins to a cooling rack and let cool at room temperature for 30 minutes. Then refrigerate the custards uncovered. Once the custards are refrigerator-cold, wrap each ramekin with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to 2 days before proceeding.
To serve, sprinkle 1-1/2 tsp. of the remaining sugar evenly over each custard. Wipe any sugar off the rim of the ramekins. Light a mini blowtorch and hold the flame 2 to 3 inches from the top of the custard, slowly gliding it back and forth over the surface until the sugar melts and turns a deep golden brown. Allow the sugar to cool and harden for a few minutes, and then serve immediately.