All fired up for gingerAugust 20th, 2021
Touted to be nature’s cure-all for everything from nausea and indigestion to being a cholesterol-reducing aid, this golden-hued miracle root is a staple in the Spice House at Babylonstoren.
Hot and fiery on the tongue, ginger grows with clusters of flowers (sometimes white, yellow, purple or red, depending on the variety) and green leaves of up to 30 cm long. But it’s the underground part of the stem, known as the rhizome, that holds the healing and culinary properties we know and love.
While one of its cousins, turmeric, has received most of the press in foodie circles over the last couple of years, ginger has been a staple in global cooking for close to 2000 years. For millennia, this tropical spice has been used for various purposes by civilisations as diverse as the ancient Chinese, the Hawaiians and the Greeks. In Japan, for example, slices of ginger are eaten between dishes or courses to cleanse the palate. Chances are that most curries you’ve tasted in your lifetime have included ginger as a cornerstone ingredient. “In the hot climates where curry originated, heating the body will induce perspiration, which in turn cools the body down,” Babylonstoren master gardener Gundula Deutschländer explains.
Another rhizome cousin, galangal, grows alongside ginger in Babylonstoren’s Spice House. It is a little bit taller and more slender than the ginger plant, producing a spray of small, white flowers. Its root is not quite as hot as ginger and is often paired with fish.
Ginger is, of course, also part of the huge Zingiberaceae plant family, which includes many varieties often grown as ornamental garden specimens. Some of these have escaped and naturalised along some of South Africa’s watercourses, says Gundula. “Many ginger plants have extravagant blooms and some emit a delectable perfume that is particularly strong at night.”
Magical medicinal plant
Apart from its culinary and ornamental powers, the use of ginger is inextricably linked to its medicinal purposes. “When ingested it is like switching on your body’s engine, allowing for circulation within your body,” Gundula explains. The ancient Chinese and Indians used ginger as a tonic root for many ailments. “Ginger is often added to tea blends, because it helps to open up the channels in the body. This allows for the swift absorption of the health benefits from the other herbs it has been paired with. Ginger will, for example, take the turmeric to the extremities of your fingers to ease the swelling caused by arthritis.”
It is the natural oils in ginger that give it its unique fragrance and flavour. The most important of these is gingerol, which is responsible for much of the root’s medicinal properties, including its powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Research has also suggested that ginger may be useful in treating nausea, aiding with indigestion and weight loss, effective at reducing the symptoms of osteoarthritis, lowering blood sugar levels, reducing menstrual pain and helping to fight infections. It may even protect against age-related damage to the brain.
How to use ginger
Incorporating ginger into your diet seems like a no-brainer, and can be done in many ways.
- Add it to your favourite curries and winter dishes
- Make your own homemade ginger beer
- Add it to a herbal tea infusion by cutting 1 cm slices of fresh ginger root and adding them to your tea.
- Make a delicious cocktail using our non-alcoholic aperitif bitterlekker along with ginger and its super-root cousin, turmeric.
- Most of the goodness is situated close to the peel. Simply scrub your organic ginger root and use it with the peel. If you do want to remove the corky outer layer, use a spoon to scrape it off rather than a knife or vegetable cutter.
- To extract the full potential of ginger, it is best to pound the sliced ginger to crush the cells in the root, thereby allowing for a more intense extraction.