Ginger History and Health

by | 11/06/17

ginger history and health

In our humble opinion, ginger is the king of culinary spices, but its kitchen prowess is just half the story. 

Ginger can be polarizing, but that’s what makes it so memorable, engaging – remarkable! Whether you love it or hate it, you have to admire it. It’s not sizzle or hype or a fad. Not only has it withstood the test of time, it enlivens and unifies every dish it touches. And it’s good for you.

To deepen your appreciation of ginger and bring more followers to the spicy side, here’s some “snackable” content about our much beloved spice. For starters, ginger is not a root. We wish it were because “root” is such a cute little word and it gets lots of snickers Down Under. But, ginger is
actually a rhizome that grows underground, much like a potato. There are hundreds of ornamental varieties of ginger with the common link being its spiky green leaves, but it’s the bit under the ground – the rhizome – that’s responsible for the magic.

Ginger loves balmy climates and flourishes in the warm, tropical weather of the top-producing countries of India, China, Fiji, Indonesia and Peru amongst others. Although more folks stateside are trying to grow ginger, it is most successfully cultivated in tropical and subtropical climates. It thrives on lots of rainfall, loves rich volcanic soil and needs great drainage.


The known history of ginger dates back about 5000 years. Its native home is debated but its medicinal and spiritual uses were first documented in Southeast Asia, India and China. Like many other spices, ginger was once a costly commodity. In the 14th century, a pound of ginger cost as much as one sheep! By the middle of the 16th century, Europe was receiving more than 2000 tonnes of dried ginger a year from the East Indies. In the Middle Ages, it was used to ward off the plague and for a while it was so popular it was placed on the table like salt and pepper. In 19th century Britain, it was sprinkled in beer (the source of ginger ale) and used to “ginger” a horse (placed up the backside of horses to prance more energetically around the show ring.)


A whiz in the kitchen, ginger lifts and unifies the flavors within many dishes, from sweet to savory. It can play the starring role in a recipe or a small, yet pivotal supporting role. A mere pinch can elevate the other ingredients into a delicious ensemble. Through European colonization, the sweet-spiciness of ginger is found in many of the world’s cuisines: Chinese stir fry, Moroccan tagines, Dutch Peperkoek (gingerbread), Tangawisi from the Congo, Thai curries and even in Quatre Épices, one of France’s oldest spice groups.

Yes, in our humble opinion, ginger is the king of culinary spices, but its kitchen prowess is just half the story. Ginger is also touted as one of the world’s most powerful herbal medicines.


Particularly helpful in the digestive system, ginger increases saliva and other digestive fluids helping to alleviate indigestion and associated problems such as bloating and flatulence. Regarded as an effective carminative (that’s science-speak for a substance which promotes the elimination of intestinal gas) and intestinal spasmolytic (a substance which relaxes and soothes the intestinal tract), ginger is thought by many to be one of nature’s greatest antidotes for general digestive distress.

Historically, ginger has been used to help alleviate all sorts of nausea, from motion sickness to morning sickness during pregnancy, and more recently, nausea following chemotherapy.1 Feeling chilled or you just can’t get the blood flowing to warm your extremities? Studies at Cornell University revealed active ingredients in ginger, called ‘gingerols’, help to prevent abnormal blood coagulation, which helps blood to flow freely and improves circulation. This also explains why in Eastern medicine ginger has been used as a libido stimulant for centuries.

We’ll leave that one there, but we’re just sayin’… Ginger is also a powerful antioxidant and its anti-inflammatory properties have been shown to help relieve joint and muscle pain and migraines.2 And if you’re a little fluish, you’ll be pleased to know that ginger can help with related aches and pains. A nighty tonic of ginger with a splash of lemon and honey will soothe the throat and give a kick to colds and flu.

1 A 2009 study funded by the National Cancer Institute found patients who consumed ginger had significantly reduced nausea following chemotherapy. A separate study found ginger more effective than the anti-nausea drug Dramamine in blocking motion sickness.
2 A study published in Psychotherapy Research showed ginger to be equally as effective as the prescription drug Sumatriptan at preventing the onset of migraines and reducing their severity. Ginger has the added benefit of having no serious or frequent side effects associated with its use