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Ginger: The Universal Medicine
Zingiber officinale • Sanskrit: Ardraka • Hindi: Adrak
Ginger has been used as a medicinal plant around the world since antiquity. Called the “universal medicine,” it is used in Ayurveda, traditional Chinese Medicine, and Western herbalism for a broad range of conditions. Ginger’s warming quality counteracts many cold-induced illnesses brought on during the winter and is a common home remedy for colds, flu, sore throat and sinus congestion. It can calm stomach nausea, vomiting and motion sickness, and it helps relieve intestinal gas and abdominal cramping, including menstrual cramps. We found it indispensable for these conditions while traveling in India and always carried it in our daypack, even eating it raw when necessary, as a first- aid treatment.
Ginger burns up mucus and congestion and acts as an expectorant for the lungs. It cleanses the body by burning up toxins or eliminating them through the skin by stimulating perspiration. By neutralizing toxins and promoting circulation, it helps treat rheumatic conditions and osteoarthritis as well.
Ginger is a powerful digestive because it stimulates saliva flow, ignites the digestive fire and tones the stomach. My ayurvedic teacher, Dr. Vasant Lad, suggests enjoying a thin slice of ginger with a few drops of lime juice and a pinch of mineral salt before eating to kindle digestion. As an entire medicine chest in one plant, it is a good idea to always have some on hand in your home.
Ginger is the primary spice in masala chai. The fresh root (actually a rhizome) is available at most supermarkets. As a general rule, a root that is compact and bright yellow on the inside will be spicier and stronger tasting than the large, watery, pale-looking variety. To use it, grate, smash or thinly slice the fresh root and add it to the simmering masala. Using a coarse grater is the simplest method, and there is no need to peel it. For an extra-spicy chai, grate and squeeze some fresh ginger juice into each cup. In a pinch, you can use dried ginger; but the whole, fresh ginger root will offer the best flavor.