Most people today think of ginger as a spice but there is more to this edible root than meets the taste buds. This is a rhizome that traveled far and wide through Ancient History not just as a means to flavor food, but as a remedy for various health conditions.
As far back as the 1st century, it had been brought to the Mediterranean by traders, and later, around the 13th century, the spice was popularized in the African continent by Arabs.
Scientifically named Zingiber officinale, ginger is recorded in Ancient Greek literature as a medicinal plant. Pedanius Dioscorides, a Greek physician, botanist, and pharmacologist made mention of ginger in his five-volume health encyclopedia, De Materia Medica. Written between 50 to 70 AD and widely read for hundreds of years, it stated that ginger is beneficial to the digestion. It referred to the root’s ability to improve libido.
The Chinese have an intimate knowledge of this root; they have been making use of the benefits of ginger as a medicinal remedy for four millennia. Handed down from their tradition of herbal cures, the root has served to increase appetite, to relieve gas, and treat nausea. Chinese herbalists used it and have kept using it as a remedy for dysentery.
In 500 BC, Confucius himself records that ginger was part of his diet, and this was possibly as a digestive aid. Drawing from this historical familiarity, today’s Chinese herbalists still utilize Zingiber officinale or jiang to restore balance to a person’s “yang” and to provide warmth to the body.
Ginger was brought to the Roman Empire from India roughly 2000 years ago. The Italian medieval university, Scuola Medica Salernitana, was a believer in the medicinal properties of this ancient root, especially in terms of virility: “…eat ginger, and you will love and be loved as in your youth.”
Ancient Japanese herbal medicine lists ginger as one of the medicines useful for a variety of illnesses. One of the most common health complaints addressed by Zingiber Officinale is back pain. To this day, however, ginger is actively used by Japanese health practitioners
The importance of this root in Indian herbal history is noted in Sanskrit where it is referred to as horned root, Sunthi, Ardrake and Srngaveran. As far back as the 3rd century BC, this herb was written about as a treatment for various conditions in “Charka Samhita” and later, around the 3rd century, the same mention is made in “Sushruta Samhita”.
By the 11th century, ginger had become so well established as a spice it was among the products that was taxed the most. In his writings, Marco Polo mentions seeing it as part of the cargo on his ship.
Through the centuries, ginger has been used not just as a spice for food but also as a soothing drink. Today, there is a growing interest in natural remedies, and along with this, people are taking a second look at the healing properties of Zingiber officinale. The history of this herb is a good place to explore how the benefits of ginger can serve more people today.