Some words connote optimism, like little rays of linguistic sunshine.
In my world, ginger is one of them.
Ginger-mottled kittens and ginger snaps. And you can’t forget the feisty Ginger from Gilligan’s Island.
Ginger root brings me the most mental and medicinal bang for my buck when choosing fresh, healthful lifestyle accoutrements. Fresh, candied, pickled or in capsules, the rhizome of the plant Zingiber officinale is a medicine cabinet of well-being, readily available in markets worldwide. Ginger is feisty.
This wonder spice has time-tested digestion-friendly properties, in addition to its numerous other health benefits. In India, ginger is liberally used in daily life. Ginger-infused chai is a household favorite, and it’s grandma’s antidote of choice for battling cold and flu. Served on millions of dining tables across the subcontinent, you’ll see slivers of fresh ginger that have turned a soft pink from being soaked in lemon juice and salt: A zingy accompaniment to any cooked meal.
Ginger has been used in China for over 2,000 years to help digestion and treat diarrhea, nausea and stomach upsets. It's also been a key plant in Ayurvedic medicine, a system of traditional medicine native to the East. More than 2,000 years ago, ginger was exported from India to the Roman Empire, where it became valued for its therapeutic, as well as culinary, properties. After the fall of the Roman Empire, ginger continued to be traded in Europe where its supply was controlled by Arab traders for hundreds of years. During medieval times it became a popular ingredient in sweets.
During the 13th and 14th centuries, black pepper and ginger were among the most commonly traded spices. By the 16th century, 1 pound of ginger in England would cost the equivalent of one sheep.
As Western civilization becomes more frustrated with hidden dangers in our food sources, particularly GMOs and other processed foods, folks are becoming more aware of the choices they can make with historically helpful natural foods. Grocers' shelves are suddenly crowded with fancy ginger ales sporting big, bold flavor, from Maine Root Ginger Brew to Reed's Extra Ginger Brew.
Ginger candy is experiencing a surge in sales, both in crystallized and mint form. Newman’s Own Organics Ginger Mints are a constant companion of mine.
Today, ginger is also used as a flavoring by the food and drink industry, as a spice and flavoring in cooking, and for fragrance in soaps and cosmetics.
Just think ginger ale for that upset stomach. Ginger contains a chemical that is also used as an ingredient in antacid, laxative and anti-gas medications. (Though personally, I see ginger ale’s added sugar as inflammatory, perhaps counterintuitive to overall well-being.) Ginger is commonly used to treat various types of “stomach problems,” including motion sickness, morning sickness, colic, upset stomach, gas, diarrhea, nausea caused by cancer treatment, nausea and vomiting after surgery, as well as loss of appetite.
But ginger’s benefits are more far-reaching in both a preventive and medicinal manner. With its anti-inflammatory properties, ginger can bring relief for everything from sore joints to microcirculatory channels of the body. Float some ginger essential oil in your bath to help aching muscles and joints.
Other uses include pain relief from arthritis, menstrual pain, upper respiratory tract infections, cough and bronchitis. It's also sometimes used for chest pain, low back pain and stomach pain.
Some people pour the fresh juice onto their skin to treat burns. The oil made from ginger is sometimes applied directly to the skin to relieve pain.
To help clear those pesky sinuses that flare up from time to time, ginger tea works wonders. An especially strong brew can feel like temporary “wasabi nose” and clears nasal channels instantly. Ginger is also thought to improve the absorption and assimilation of essential nutrients in the body.
According to Cephas Gilbert of Cephas’ Jamaican Hot Shop in Ybor City, using fresh ginger root to make tea is most beneficial.
“As with most food sources, using something fresh and live is going to promote the most health and nutritional benefits,” Gilbert said. “Why waste your time with something that has been sitting in warehouses and store shelves for months?”
And Gilbert should know. Drinking ginger root tea since childhood in his native Jamaica, Gilbert was introduced to this daily staple by his grandmother and mother, who brewed it daily. Since opening his Fourth Avenue restaurant more than 33 years ago, ginger root tea has been a consistent staple and customer favorite.
Alain Del Rio, produce associate at organic market Rollin’ Oats in Tampa, has seen a significant increase in consumer consumption.
“Since around the first of the year, we have definitely seen an upswing in ginger and tumeric root,” Del Rio said. “We used to sell about a half a case a week and now we sell a full case, 20 to 30 pounds a week.”
Del Rio is a daily devotee. “I juice every day with a half of a piece of ginger, a carrot and a bunch of spinach. It packs a world of good.”
Produce associates at Clearwater’s Nature’s Food Patch have also noticed a significant increase in ginger sales, and ginger uses are inquired about frequently by their patrons. Of the 11 fresh organic juices on their menu, five include ginger. The store's Gingerlicious Smoothie is a patron favorite.
Alexis Springer, mom to 7-year-old Julian, served him ginger tea the past several days to combat his upper respiratory and flu symptoms.
“I’ve been an advocate of ginger for a long time,” said Springer, a former health food store associate. “I’m glad Julian likes it, and he seems to be getting better. One of nature’s gifts.”
Ginger Tea: Variations on a theme
Do try this at home
Raw ginger, sliced, amount to strength preference
3 quarts of water
Juice of 1/2 lime, or to taste
Honey, agave nectar or other sweetener (my personal preference is stevia)
Variations or additions can include cinnamon sticks, green or any flavor of tea and fresh fruit slices
Peel the ginger and slice thinly to maximize the surface area. This will help you make a very flavorful ginger tea.
Boil the ginger in water for at least 10 minutes. For a stronger and more feisty tea, boil for 20 minutes or more, and use extra ginger slices. You really can't overdo it, so feel free to add as much ginger and simmer it for as long as you want.
Remove from heat and add lime juice and your sweetener to taste.
The secret to making a really flavorful ginger tea is to be generous with the ginger — more than you think you will need. Be creative, sip, savor, relax and repeat.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the use of herbs can interact with other herbs or medications. Therefore, it's important to talk to your doctor before consuming ginger. You should not take ginger if you suffer from a bleeding disorder or take blood-thinning medications (such as Warfarin or aspirin). Side effects of consuming ginger are rare but may include diarrhea, heartburn, stomach upset or mouth irritation.
Those with celiac disease should also be cautious. Once again, consult your physician.
Ginger tip of the day Avoid the "sprouting ginger counter garden" by freezing freshly-purchased ginger in air-tight bags or containers.
Honor thy planet Earth Day, founded by Senator Gaylord Nelson, was first organized in 1970 to promote ecology and respect for life on the planet as well as to encourage awareness of the growing problems of air, water and soil pollution. Today, Earth Day is celebrated on April 22 in more than 192 countries.
Eco-Fest 2014, held April 12 at Lowry Park, is one of the area’s largest celebrations. Organized by Learning Gate Community School, the City of Tampa and the University of South Florida Patel College of Global Sustainability, Eco-Fest drew thousands to this year’s events.
Words of wisdom “Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have.” ― Winston Churchill
Great local harvest updates Big Bear Farms, established in 1990 as a conventional farm, stopped using chemical pesticides a year later. By 2004, all chemical fertilizers ceased. The farm is family-owned and operated, with certified organic fruit and vegetables. It operates under the strict rules of the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) and is certified by Quality Certification Services (QCS). You can sign up for harvest updates online or visit the farm at 7606 Kinard Road in Plant City.
Also, Local Harvest offers regional signups for weekly updates on current harvests, farmer’s markets, family farms, CSAs, farm stands and U-pick produce in your area.
Sustainable Farming: Art for Advocacy 5 p.m. Monday, April 21. A gallery show will feature local artists and visual art students from Gibbs High School's Center for the Arts. All works were created specifically for the show, expressing the artists' understanding of sustainable farming. A percentage of the purchased art will be donated to Tampa's Sweetwater Organic Community Farm.
The exhibit is free and will be held at Stetson University College of Law at 1401 61st St. S. in Gulfport.
NaturalStress Relief 6:15 p.m. Monday, April 21. Hosted at Rollin' Oats' Tampa store, Dr. Robert Linde, AP, RH, doctor of Oriental medicine, will discuss secrets to stress relief using resources from the earth.
Got Moringa! 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 17th. Nature's Food Patch in Clearwater welcomes permaculturists of the Edible Garden Nursery to lecture on the multipurpose benefits of the Moringa plant and why everyone's yard should have the tree.
Free Cooking Class: The Whole Coconut 6:15 p.m. Thursday, April 24. Mindful Meals personal chef Emily Golden Drews will educate on use of coconut in whole food recipes at Rollin' Oats in Tampa.
Stay in the loop with Bay area outdoor markets Tampa Bay Markets and St. Pete District Markets are collectives of community farmers markets that feature locally grown foods, crafts and live music. Both can be found on Facebook.
Granny’s remedies Keep those pearly whites even whiter with sage leaves and strawberries. Rubbed on one's teeth, it will help remove tartar and stains.
Documentary pick of the week The Beautiful Truth is about an Alaskan native teenager determined to prove or dispel what Dr. Max Gerson wrote in his 1958 controversial book, A Cancer Therapy: Results of 50 Cases, which follows 30 years of clinical experimentation. After countless interviews with doctors, skeptics, cancer patients and members of Gerson’s family, it became clear to 15-year-old Garrett Kroschel that a cure for virtually all cancers and chronic diseases does exist, and has existed for more than 80 years. (Available on Amazon Prime and Netflix, it can also be viewed for free.)
I am not a healthcare professional, but I am a passionate advocate of natural health, as well as a voracious reader and lecture attendee. I just want to learn and share. If you have any suggestions, news events or feature ideas please email me at email@example.com.