Digestive Herbs: Warming Ginger & Crystallized Candies
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Energetics: hot; dry (dried herb), neutral (fresh herb)
Therapeutic Actions: anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, antiemetic, carminative, expectorant, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, stimulant
Ginger was one of those herbs and spices that always made me feel better, far before I understood the concept of herbal energetics. You see, I am a colllllllllld person. You know the type – fingertips like ice cubes, pale complexion, constantly telling everybody to bring a sweater because it could be chilly where you’re going. Even during the heat of summer, stepping into an aggressively air conditioned building, I immediately feel sick and chilled. I am cold.
All this to say: Ginger is warming. As such, it is inherently called for cold, often tense/crampy conditions.
Ginger Medicinal Benefits
Any woman that has ever been pregnant has undoubtedly been told about the anti-nausea benefits of ginger. While the safety of ginger use during early pregnancy is a subject of some debate, its stomach-settling benefits are really not. This fleshy rhizome is go-to herb/spice for a variety of stomach complaints associated with coldness and cramping. It is a powerful aid in instances of motion sickness, nausea, and vomiting. It also has remarkable “deflating” effect on a gassy and bloated belly. Ate too much heavy food and feel stuck – ginger. Got hiccups – ginger. General bellyache with the chills – ginger. Herbalist Matthew Wood even indicates its use for the chills and nausea associated with drug and alcohol withdrawal, particularly that of benzodiazepines.
Ginger is also thought to have an affinity for the genito-urinary organs. As a diffusive herb, it is often used in formulations to help direct the actions of other herbs to these organs. It alone drank as a tea, or prepared as a warm compress, it can be enough to reduce menstrual cramping and a sense of pelvic congestion or fullness of the bladder sometimes associated with urinary tract infection.
Ginger is a good choice constitutionally for those with cold, sometimes clammy skin, chilblains, and pale complexion as it helps bring visceral heat to peripheral areas. Similarly, this herb is an excellent choice for a fever accompanied by chills, cold sweats, and headache. During recovery from acute or chronic illness, it can help one with a general feeling of debility and weakness. When a cold, runny nose persists with a spasmodic cough, ginger can help to expel and dry out irritating mucous. Applied topically, ginger is even said to help heal an abscess and remove warts. Additionally, I find that ginger applied to sore and arthritic joints that worsen in cold, wet weather, is a remedy of great pain relief.
Ginger Identification & Growing Habitat
While the rhizome is easily found at most grocery stores, true ginger is not an herb that most of us can forage for. This herb thrives in the dense, moist forests of tropical regions and is characterized by a long leaves and a spring flower. I have heard that one can grow it in pots (bringing it inside to overwinter) here in the temperate north. Here is a link to a great set of grow-your-own instructions from the Missouri Botanical Garden.
Ginger Safety & Dosage
Ginger is considered safe as consumed as food, generally speaking. Theoretically, those with bleeding disorders (poor clotting) and on anticoagulant therapies should avoid its use, however, the study I have seen cited used very large doses (12-14 grams) to demonstrate. As I have alluded to previously, there is some debate about its use during pregnancy: German Commission E states that it should not be used for morning sickness, while Traditional Chinese Medicine indicates that up to two grams daily is safe for use. Tinctures in the amount of 1.5-5mls up to three times daily and a ginger tea are considered safe for regular use for otherwise healthy individuals.
Crystallized Ginger Candy
Now for the fun stuff… Herbalism doesn’t always have to be about teas, tinctures, and decoctions. Sometimes you can have a little fun with it, in the form of medicinal candies. While I would not promote a sugary treat as a means of achieving overall good health, a little now and then isn’t going to hurt (however, not appropriate for diabetics).
I love this crystallized ginger for motion sickness, but also find it to be a yummy treat after a big dinner when I can’t shake a sweet tooth, but my very full tummy says dessert is a no-go. So much better than store-bought, these homemade, jewel-like candies are pungent, spicy, and, somehow, less sweet than the alternative. Don’t forget to save both the ginger decoction and syrup that are by-products of this creation. The decoction makes a spicy tea for sipping, and I love using the syrup to flavor the second ferment for my homemade kombucha.
Warming Ginger Crystallized Candy
These delicious ginger candies are pungent, spicy, and the perfect thing to soothe an unsettled stomach.
- .5 lb organic fresh ginger root
- water to cover
- 1 cup organic sugar
- more sugar for coating
Peel ginger root. Using a mandolin or a knife, cut into 1/8" slices.
Place ginger slices in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and continue to simmer for about 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, strain the ginger through a fine mesh sieve into a small bowl. Return 1/4 cup of the ginger decoction and the ginger slices back to the saucepan. Add one cup sugar.
Over medium-high heat, bring mixture to a boil. Boil until the mixture reads 225 degrees (F) on a candy thermometer.
Remove from heat and pour mixture through a fine mesh sieve, reserving resulting syrup for other uses. Place ginger slices on a drying rack in a single layer and dry for 18-24 hours.
When ginger is mostly dry, but still slightly sticky, toss in a bowl of granulated sugar to coat. Place in a serving bowl and keep dry.
Bone, K., & Mills, S. (2013). Principles and practice of phytotherapy: modern herbal medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier.
Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism the science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
Wood, M. (2016). Earthwise herbal repertory: traditional western herbalism. North Atlantic Books.