By Dr. Mercola
Ginger is a spice well worth having on hand at all times. Not only is it a wonderful addition to your cooking (and can be used in a number of beverages) but it also has a wide variety of medicinal benefits, including broad-spectrum antibacterial, antiviral, antioxidant and antiparasitic properties.
It's a rich source of antioxidants including gingerols, shogaols and paradols, all of which have documented anticancer activity.1 Furthermore, because ginger helps prevent the toxic effects of many substances (including cancer drugs), it may be useful to take in addition to conventional cancer treatments.2
Sampling of Ginger's Health Benefits
Ginger has also been shown to:
• Enhance the bronchodilation in asthmatics
• Improve blood glucose, triglyceride, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels in diabetics. It also benefits diabetics by inhibiting carbohydrate metabolism and improving insulin sensitivity3
Made into hot tea, ginger releases the compounds gingerol and protease, bringing a rush of comforting warmth that actually increases cardiovascular circulation. Its potent anti-inflammatory effects make it a particularly valuable tool for all sorts of pain relief. For example, research has shown it can help:
• Decrease muscle soreness in athletes6
Grow Your Own Ginger for a Never-Ending Supply
Growing your own ginger is an easy and inexpensive way to ensure you always have this medicinal wonder worker on hand. Growing your own will also provide you with something you won't get at the store — so-called "stem" ginger, which has its own culinary uses. As noted by The Guardian:9
"Dug straight from the ground the rhizomes are butter yellow with a pink blush. Their flavor is not fiery and drying but warm and delicate — almost floral. Even their texture is crisp and light, like an apple, resulting in a crop that is eaten more like a vegetable than a spice.
Highly prized in the Asian-Pacific region, stem ginger is traditionally sliced finely and served as a fresh condiment with fish or chicken dishes, or added to salads and salsas. Thin slivers are a revelation stirred into juices and drinks. Steep it in sugar to create a syrup to lace desserts and you will wonder why you've never grown it before."
Shogaols are the chemicals responsible for the "hotness" of the ginger, and the flavor difference between regular "root" ginger and fresh "stem" ginger comes down to the fact that the latter is nearly devoid of shogaols. These chemicals develop through a chemical reaction that occurs when the rhizome starts to dry out and the outer skin starts to develop that papery appearance. This is why you'd be hard-pressed to ever find stem ginger for sale commercially. The only way to get it is to grow your own, and dig some out as you need it.
How to Grow Ginger Indoors or Out
Growing ginger is really easy, and can be done either in a container, kept indoors or out or directly in your garden bed. Most growers tend to favor containers, as it's easier to control the soil and moisture that way; plus, you can easily move it if it needs more or less light or heat.
All you need to get started is a fresh and healthy-looking leftover piece. Ideally, look for a firm, plump piece with smooth skin and visible eyes — tiny yellow tips on the rhizome that will eventually develop into new sprouts. Here are some tips to propagate ginger.10 While you could potentially grow it at any time of the year, it tends to grow best if planted sometime between spring and fall; April through May tends to be ideal if growing them outdoors.
1. If using a store-bought piece to propagate your ginger, or if the piece you're using seems a bit dry, soak it in warm water overnight. If pressed for time, three hours of immersion will typically suffice. When replanting a really fresh piece, such as a freshly harvested rhizome that still has the plant stem on it, you can forgo this step.
2. Plant it in a well-draining pot filled with quality potting soil mixed with plenty of organic compost. California Gardening suggests using a ratio of 90 percent compost and 10 percent potting mix. The Spruce suggests adding worm castings. If using a 5-1-1 potting mix, be sure to add a complete vegetable fertilizer. For instructions on how to make a 5-1-1 mix, see the following video. Alternatively, you can plant them directly into your garden bed, provided you've made the appropriate soil amendments.
If you have a larger piece of ginger, go ahead and cut it into smaller bits. As shown in the featured video, simply press the ginger pieces into the soil, making sure the eyes face toward the surface, then cover with a light layer of soil (just enough to cover the eye without burying it).
3. Water well, cover the pot with a clear plastic bag to raise the humidity level and place it in a spot with partial sunlight. Mist regularly to maintain moisture. Should the root dry out, its growth will be permanently stunted. On the other hand, you'll want to avoid overwatering, as soggy soil will encourage rotting. So, keep soil moist but never soaking wet. A drip-irrigation system can be helpful.
The Spruce also offers the following trick to raise the humidity level:11 "[P]lace your pot on a tray of small stones. Keep the tray full of water. This way it is always evaporating and adding moisture right directly to the plant's area." If your soil is overly wet and you need to improve drainage, add some perlite or vermiculite into the mix.
4. Once green tips start to sprout — which may take up to a month, depending on the temperature — remove the bag and keep it in a warm room with plenty of natural light. An ideal temperature is right around 75 degrees F. You can expect to begin harvesting the rhizome in six to eight months.
If you planted your ginger in the spring, it'll be ready for harvest in the fall. While you can certainly dig around the rhizome to check its size, the easiest way to assess whether it's ready for harvest is to look at the size of the plant stems. The root is ready for harvest when the stems have reached a height of at least 3 to 4 feet. The taller the plant, the larger the root.
You have two options when it comes to harvesting. You can either dig out the entire root, or simply snip off a piece for immediate use, leaving the rest. If you want mild-flavored "stem" ginger for a culinary twist, harvest only what you need each time as the root will become "hotter" as the outer skin begins to dry out.
Remember to save some pieces to repropagate your ginger plants. Either select a plump, firm piece and cut in to smaller pieces, as you did before, or simply replant smaller rhizome pieces still attached to the plant stems. This way, you'll be able to maintain a continuous supply of ginger year-round. In winter months, you could simply bring the pot indoors.
Fresh ginger will keep for at least three weeks in the refrigerator. To maximize shelf life, place a whole, unpeeled piece in a resealable plastic bag; squeeze the air out and place it in the crisper drawer.12 If the piece has been cut or peeled, blot the moisture off with a paper towel before storing.
If left out on the counter, it'll dry out within days. Once the ginger starts to wrinkle, it will have lost much of its flavor and medicinal potency. Grated ginger can also be frozen for about six months, saving you a bit of time and cleanup when cooking. To freeze ginger:13
- Peel and grate the ginger
- Place scoops of ginger (in whatever measurement is most convenient for you, say teaspoon- or tablespoon-sized dollops) on a parchment-lined tray
- Place the tray in the freezer until the dollops are frozen solid, then transfer the dollops to an airtight container
How to Use Ginger
Ginger is a versatile addition to soups, sauces, marinades and a number of other dishes, from baked apples to stir-fried vegetables. To get the most of its complex, flavorful nuances, add ginger at the beginning of your cooking as well as toward the end, and peel it as little as possible. You can even use ginger in baked goods and desserts! An article in Serious Eats lists no less than 19 different ginger dessert recipes.14
A cup of tea, of course, is one of its hallmarks, not just for pleasant flavor, but also for its soothing, warming qualities. To make ginger tea, simply peel the ginger and steep a couple of thin slices in hot water for several minutes. A little goes a long way, so start with just a slice or two. Following are a couple of creative ways to incorporate ginger into your diet.
Pickled Cucumbers With Ginger
Ingredients; 4 servings
- Slice the cucumbers thinly, and place in a large bowl. Using your hands, toss cucumbers with 1/2 cup sea salt. Lightly squeeze the slices as you toss. Cover and let sit at room temperature for one hour. The salt will draw the water content out of the cucumbers.
- Pour the cucumbers and liquid into a colander to drain. While in the colander, use your hands to squish out as much water as possible. Return cucumbers to bowl.
- Add the vinegar, stevia, salt, pepper and ginger. Toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate 12 to 24 hours.
- Remove from refrigerator and taste. It should be tart with a bit of sweetness and spice. Adjust flavors if necessary by adding more stevia or pepper. If it tastes watery, drain some liquid and add more vinegar.
Coconut and Ginger Kefir Recipe
Ingredients; makes 3 cups
• 3 young coconuts
• Kefir starter culture (alternatively, use one or two probiotic capsules)
• 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1. Open the coconuts by cutting the top of the shells on each side. Strain the coconut water into a sterilized jar and set aside.
2. Add the kefir starter or contents of probiotic capsule(s) to the coconut water, then add the ginger. Using a non-metal spoon, stir the mixture.
3. Cover the jar with a piece of muslin and tighten the cloth with a rubber band. Place the jar inside your pantry, or on top of the kitchen counter in a dark area for 24 to 48 hours to allow the mixture to ferment. The kefir will be ready when the water turns from a relatively clear to a cloudy white appearance.
4. You can taste test the kefir after 24 to 30 hours of fermenting. Pour some into a glass — do not taste directly from the bottle. The kefir should taste sour, with no sweetness left, like coconut beer. Some batches are fizzier than others, but all are beneficial. If it still tastes a little sweet, place it back in the pantry for the remaining recommended fermentation time.