Hello there! Today’s post is another short and sweet one. I hope you all enjoyed last week’s post on seasonal eating. This week is also food-related, but I’m actually going to be talking about an important Chinese herb- ginger! Some of our commonly used Chinese herbs are also foods or spices that we eat regularly, and I think the best example of this is ginger.
When I talk about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), usually acupuncture is the big buzzword that people associate with it. However, acupuncture is just one small part of our Chinese medical toolbox. The practice of Chinese herbology (yes, friends, I did indeed study herbology…just like Harry Potter) is one that actually extends back even further through Chinese history than acupuncture does. There are hundreds and hundreds of medicinals in the repertoire of Chinese herbal medicine- plant leaves, roots, berries/fruits, barks, minerals, animal products, and even some particularly gnarly ingredients like scorpions, snakes, and bugs. However, today I’m just going to focus on one very important Chinese herb- the humble, yet delicious, ginger root. Herbs are very rarely used by themselves in TCM, but ginger is one that we can use just as a single herb.Ginger is called Sheng Jiang in Chinese and zingiberis rhizoma in Latin. It is considered part of the category of herbs that is said to “release the exterior.” That is a fancy way of saying that these herbs are used to treat conditions that attack us from the outside (remember my scarf post? Those types of pathogens). This means that this category of herbs is really good at treating a cold when it is just starting to show up- chills/fever, muscle aches, stiff neck, headache, coughing, etc. Ginger can be used at the first signs of a cold to help give those pathogens the heave-ho and send them on their way. It’s also good for treating coughs once they have settled in to stay.
Ginger is also very good at treating upset stomachs. I’m sure many of you have heard this as a folk remedy for nausea, and I’m here to tell you that it’s good advice! Ginger helps what we refer to as the “middle burner” in TCM, which essentially means it’s a good herb to help with our digestive system. Ginger can be used to treat nausea, vomiting, and any garden-variety stomach ickiness (including that general bleh feeling you can get after eating something that doesn’t seem to be sitting so well).
There’s a couple of easy ways to enjoy ginger. I love ginger tea when you feel like you are getting a cold. You can buy ginger tea bags and let those steep, or you can just slice up some fresh ginger and boil it in some hot water for a couple minutes. I also like to add a little honey to ginger tea when I’m feeling under the weather, especially if I am coughing a lot.
You can also find ginger chews, hard candies, and crystallized ginger in most grocery stores. I like the products by The Ginger People company since they tend to have a pretty clean ingredient list (I’m actually eating one of their hard candies as I write this!). You can also add ginger to most things you cook- I personally love it with broccoli (sounds weird, tastes delicious). It’s great in stir-frys with pretty much any protein, and it can add a spicy kick to stews, curries, smoothies, and soups. Ginger also keeps really well in the freezer, so if you buy a knob and are worried about using it all up, just wrap up what you don’t use and throw it in the freezer. When I take it out of the freezer, I’ll usually just grate what I need when it’s still frozen and not stress about cutting off the skin, but feel free to thaw and peel if you’d like.
Obviously, too much of anything becomes not a good thing. Ginger is a pretty safe ingredient, as is evidenced by its easy accessibility. However, it is considered a warm herb, and too much consumption of a warm herb over time will eventually create pathological heat in the body. So add it to your diet in moderation. Plus, an ancient Chinese medical doctor said that too much ginger would drain the will and intelligence, so better to be safe than sorry (sometimes historical Chinese medical advice is straight-up bonkers, as evidenced here. I love it.). Obviously, if you have an underlying medical condition or are pregnant, it’s always a good idea to run any dietary changes or herbal supplements by your regular physician or Chinese medical practitioner.
Let me know your favorite way to eat ginger! And if you know The Ginger People and can ask them to send me many ginger items, I like the chews best 🙂 I hope you have a wonderful week, and be well.
All herbal information comes from: Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica (3rd. ed) by D. Bensky, S. Clavey, E. Stöger, & A. Gamble (Eastland Press, 2004).