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Is it a root or a rhizome? This fragrant, shriveled, golden-skinned plant adds a spicy kick to a variety of foods and beverages while offering plenty of health benefits. We’re talking about ginger of course! Although its origins remain unknown, Ann M. Bode and Zigang Dong explain that ginger dates back over 3,000 years to the Sanskrit word srngaveram (meaning horn root)  and is known scientifically as the Zingiber officinale. Some 5,000 years ago, ginger was being cultivated for use in tonics in India and China. With known medicinal properties, ginger became an important item of trade between India, the Roman Empire, and Arab kingdoms. But ginger is nothing if not versatile. It is used in medicines, food, drinks (like ginger ale, beer, and tea), as well as savoury dishes like curries and stir-fries, and even desserts and sweets like candies, gingerbread, and gingersnaps. But its versatility is also about how it can be prepared. According to Bode and Dong, ginger can be used, “fresh, dried, pickled, preserved, crystallized, candied and powdered or ground.”

But besides the incomparable spicy taste, there are plenty of other reasons to add ginger to your diet. Not only is it known for its flavour, but for centuries ginger has been lauded for its medicinal benefits. Thankfully, long before our ancestors had antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals, they had ginger! According to current science, of the 115 active constituents in ginger, gingerols are the ones that seem to provide the greatest health benefits. What do they do? Perhaps the better question is what don’t they do? Well, according to the brainy folks at John Hopkins Medicine, gingerol benefits gastrointestinal motility, meaning that it aids the movement of food through the stomach, assisting our bodies with digestion. Why should you care? Well, this means that ginger is great for nausea relief, chemotherapy and pregnancy symptoms, and bloating and gas. Ginger, having antioxidant properties, is also known to combat oxidative stress which is the origin of numerous diseases.

Furthermore, evidence suggests that ginger is beneficial in the treatment of unhealthy inflammation, swelling, and pain. This means it may assist your body in the elimination of fibroids and the agonizing period pain that accompanies them. Ginger’s anti-inflammatory properties can also benefit those suffering with ailments such as osteoarthritis and rheumatism. Need more reasons to add ginger to your daily health and diet routine? Ginger also contains anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-diabetic, anti-nausea, and anti-carcinogenic properties. Did you get all that? Ginger’s anti-nausea properties mean that it has been a go-to treatment for travel sickness (it is actually a key ingredient in some over the counter medications now), chemotherapy, and morning (or any time of day) sickness for pregnant women. As for its anti-carcinogenic effect, Bode and Dong explain that, “The effectiveness of ginger in preventing or suppressing cancer growth has been examined in a variety of cancer types, including lymphoma, hepatoma, colorectal cancer, breast cancer, skin cancer, liver cancer, and bladder cancer.” There is also evidence that ginger supports cardiovascular health, and staves off respiratory illness, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.

The versatility of ginger in terms of how it can be consumed means there is plenty of flexibility in how and when you add it to your healthy routine. If you want to introduce it as a supplement, tablets, capsules, powders, and tinctures are all readily available. Powders and tinctures are easy to add to foods or drinks like soup or your morning superfood shake. But you can also use fresh ginger like Chef Ricardo in his delicious Jamaica Guava Smoothie Drink with ginger, lemon, and honey. If you are taking ginger to calm that irritable tummy, the fastest route may be tea, ginger ale, or ginger beer. Ginger tea does not have to come from a tea bag. When preparing ginger at home, remove the skin, wash, and slice it horizontally. For tea, cut it into thin slices and crush it in a mortar and pestle (to release the pungent aromas and juices), add to boiling water for 5 minutes, strain, and serve. Ginger beer is also the foundation of great cocktails like the Moscow Mule which combines it with lime, vodka, and mint.

As the culinary experts at Food and Wine demonstrate, for cooking, ginger is an easy game-changing centrepiece in vegetarian dishes featuring sweet potato, squash or mushrooms (like Gingered Butternut Squash Soup with Spicy Pecan Cream or Tempered Curry-Ginger Sweet Potatoes), in meat dishes (like Beef Stir-Fry with Fresh and Pickled Ginger or Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Raisin-Ginger Pan Sauce), in fish and seafood dishes (like Sesame-Crusted Tuna with Ginger Cream or Ginger-Garlic Shrimp with Tangy Tomato Sauce) or in desserts (like Glazed Lemon-Ginger Scones or Molasses-Gingerbread Cake with Mascarpone Cream).

Medicinally, ginger is no joke. Common side effects of ginger consumption include bloating, heartburn, and nausea and extreme reactions include diarrhea and abdominal pain. Since ginger is known to lower blood pressure, people with high blood pressure and taking blood thinners should proceed with caution. But for those of us who are soothed and enthused by its wonderful medicinal and culinary attributes, ginger is too powerful to ignore. So, the question isn’t if, but how you should add it to your diet.

By the way, it’s a rhizome!