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Aromatic, pungent, and delightfully spicy, ginger adds a special jolt of flavor to an array of recipes—anything from stir-fries to cookies, even beer. Available in fresh, dried, or ground forms, ginger comes from the root of the perennial herb Zingiber officinale and is available year round.

Beyond its culinary uses, ginger has a long history of medicinal uses for the treatment of a variety of human ailments. Here, we look at the functions of ginger—in and out of the kitchen—and dig deeper into its nutritional benefits.

Ginger contains several compounds that are thought to provide health benefits. Among them is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compound called gingerol, which has received considerable interest as a potential therapeutic agent for the prevention and/or treatment of various diseases. Gingerol is also responsible for lending the root its characteristic flavor and spiciness.

Gingerols have a similar structure to capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers and capsicum, a known pain reliever. As such, ginger has been shown to reduce pain levels in individuals with certain types of arthritis by acting on the receptors located on sensory nerve endings.[1] It can also have a positive impact on reducing generalized muscle pain and soreness.

Cell cultures and animal studies show that ginger may also protect tissues and organs against oxidative damage and prevent cancer development and growth. Though more research is needed to determine therapeutic dosages, the active compounds in ginger have been widely recognized for their antioxidant capabilities.[2]

Ginger has been used for thousands of years as an effective digestive aid and natural remedy for nausea. By helping to relax the smooth muscle in the gut lining, ginger can be highly effective in alleviating gastrointestinal distress. Since ginger is considered safe for pregnant woman, it is also used to reduce symptoms of morning sickness, often in the form of ginger lozenges, candies, or tea.

Credit: Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Our Favorite Ways to Use Ginger

This aromatic and delightfully spicy root can instantly add Asian flare to vegetables, dressings, and marinades. Ginger is also a staple in holiday baking to add spice and depth of flavor to cookies, bars, and breads.

Bottom Line

Using fresh or ground ginger is an easy way to enhance the flavor and aroma of foods and beverages. In addition to its culinary uses, ginger has been used in herbal medicine to help treat or reduce symptoms of certain health ailments. Modern research has revealed that ginger has many therapeutic properties, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Though ginger can be purchased as a supplement, it is best to reap the benefits of this root naturally through food.