Ginger – “The Universal Medicine” Of Ayurveda
Welcome to Part 4 in the series of Ayurveda and the botanicals that are used in this 5,000 year-old medical science. In this edition we focus on Ginger, the herb that Ayurveda calls “The Univerisal Medicine”, and one that has perhaps the oldest tradition in the West of any botanical. Ginger (Zingiber Officinale) has a long history in both China and India for its medicinal properties, in both the fresh and dried root forms. Known popularly as a garnish in western culture, the health promoting properties of this root are vast, so let’s explore them in more detail.
Ginger is an herb that grows year-round and has irregularly shaped underground roots that are shiny and juicy when cut. It is this root that has the characteristic aroma and has the medicinal properties in the fresh and dried forms. In fact, Ginger has uses for so many illnesses that it is best to break the benefits down to the actions on individual organ systems.
Starting with the Digestive System, Ginger has been known to stimulate digestion and improve the tone of the intestinal tract, which can ease the process of digestion itself and lead to less overall irritation. Additionally, Ginger may be a protective agent for the stomach against the damage caused by both non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and alcohol. These findings indicate ginger can have a role in the prevention of gastric ulcers as well.
Ginger preparations are very user-friendly. Shredded fresh Ginger is frequently mixed with lemon juice and honey in Ayurvedic Medicine to reduce both nausea and vomiting, though the exact mechanisms behind these actions are not clear. Indigestion and biliary colic are other illnesses where Ginger has benefits.
The Musculoskeletal System uses for ginger are strongly focused on its anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger is known to inhibit the production of cytokines, which are chemicals that modulate the immune response and promote inflammation. Therefore, Ginger is used to treat disorders such as Arthritis, Bursitis other pain syndromes where inflammation is a culprit. Ginger has also been known to enhance circulation, thereby improving its efficacy for treating pain disorders. These characteristics of ginger, along with its relatively few side effects compared to pharmaceutical medications such as NSAIDS, give the root a niche in treating inflammation and pain.
Within Ayurvedic Medicine there is a belief that the body accumulates toxins which then lead to infection. The term in Ayurveda for these toxins is ‘ama’, and ama must be ‘digested’ by the immune system to rid the body of dis-ease. Ginger is used in this role of digesting infectious agents and has been effective in treating Sinusitis, Bronchitis and Allergic Rhinitis for thousands of years. These disease processes are similar in that the accumulation of bodily secretions causes symptoms. This is where the use of dried or fresh ginger in herbal teas can provide a defense against respiratory problems. Also, when taken during the course of viral illnesses such as Influenza, herbal teas with Ginger can induce sweating and fever reduction.
Further uses for Ginger in Ayurvedic Medicine are numerous and ancient vedic texts document Ginger having aphrodisiac properties. Pain relief from menstruation, irregular menses, treatment of impotence are other documented uses. Ginger has also been used externally to treat headaches, muscle and toothaches. The list is even longer and I am sure you are beginning to understand why Ayurveda calls this root “The Universal Medicine.”
Ginger, unlike Amalaki and Turmeric detailed in past articles, is readily available in many forms in the United States. Many Ayurvedic websites exist where Ginger can be ordered, and it is common to find fresh ginger root in grocery stores across the West. Remember, though, the real key to using these botanicals in Ayurveda is finding a synergistic combination where the potency of one herb or fruit can enhance the actions of the others. Look for combinations where Ginger is used with other Ayurvedic herbs and you can maximize your health benefits from every botanical.
The next installment in the series will look at an herb also known as “Holy Basil”, and why it has an honored place within Ayurveda.
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To Your Health And Longevity, Dr. Kevin Rosi
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