Ginger, Zingiber officinale Roscoe belonging to the Family Zingiberaceae, is a perennial herb with thick tuberous rhizomes. The erect leafy aerial stem grows up to approximately 1 meter in height and has purple flowers. Ginger is native to southern Asia and is extensively cultivated in the tropics. The pungent rhizome is the part, which is used and is commonly called ginger root in both its fresh and dried forms. The rhizome is firm with a skin color that varies from buff to very dark brown almost black, while the color of the flesh of the rhizome ranges from pale yellow to deep orange red. Three main spice products, fresh (green) ginger, dried whole or powdered ginger and preserved ginger, are obtained from the rhizome.
A pale yellow to light brown essential oil is steam distilled from freshly ground, unpeeled dried ginger with a yield of 0.25% – 3.3%. The oil cells are distributed in the cortex and pith, however the oil-containing cells are especially numerous in the epidermal tissue resulting in the fact that peeled or scraped rhizomes have less oil. The essential oil contains as its major components, the sesquiterpene hydrocarbons zingiberene and bisabolene. Ginger blends well with woods like cedar and sandalwood, citrus oils like orange and lime, as well as florals like neroli and ylang ylang.
Ginger has a long history of use as a medicinal herb. In India, it is mentioned in the earliest Sanskrit literature while in China, the first known record if from Confucius (c. 500BC) “who apparently was never without ginger when he ate“. Its use is also documented in ancient Greek, Roman and Arabic medical literature. In Asian medical practices, dried ginger has been used to treat stomachache, diarrhea and nausea for thousands of years. While there has been quite a lot of research done on the efficacy of dried ginger for various conditions there has been less research done on the actual essential oil. However the Aromatherapy Database does list some research studies on the essential oil of ginger.
Psychologically, Ginger has cheering and aphrodisiac properties. It is stimulating but grounding and is believed to warm cold flat emotions, sharpen the senses and assist with nervous exhaustion and tiredness. In addition it is considered to be a memory aid and be helpful in boosting courage.
On the physiological level Ginger has analgesic and antispasmodic properties and it has been used for arthritis, fatigue, muscle aches and pains, neuralgia, sprains and rheumatism. Ginger has also been found to be very useful for many digestive complaints including constipation, indigestion, travel sickness, nausea, vomiting, anorexia and hangover.
Contraindications:. Use in low concentrations as this oil can cause skin irritations. Its very low phototoxicity is not considered significant according to a report by D.L. J. Opdyke, Food Cosmet. Toxicol., 12 (Suppl.) 901 (1974).
E.A. Weiss, Essential Oil Crops, CAB International, Oxon, UK & New York, NY, 1997
Blumenthal, Goldberg, Brinckmann Herbal Medicine, Expanded Commission E Monographs , 2000
Leung and Foster, Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 1996
Beverley Hawkins, Aromatherapy 101 Course 1999 revised 2000, 2001