Ginger root and ground ginger
Ginger root and ground ginger.

King Mithridates of Pontus, back in the first century B.C.E. created an amazing universal antidote that he drank daily to protect him against all poisons. Ginger was one of the spices that featured in his Mithridaticum, which, naturally, he tested on condemned prisoners first. He must have been successful because, when he wanted to end his life with poison to avoid capture, the poison didn’t work!


Portrait of the king of Pontus Mithridates VI, in the Louvre. Image by Sting.
Portrait of the king of Pontus Mithridates VI, in the Louvre. Image by Sting.

Ginger originated in Southern China, and it was transplanted to many other places through waves of migrations many thousands of years ago. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a member of the plant family that includes turmeric and cardamom. The rhizome, the stem from which the roots grow, is the main portion of ginger that is consumed. In Europe, dried and ground ginger is the most common form, whereas in Asia both mature and young rhizomes are widely used. Today it is cultivated in India, China, Japan, Indonesia, Australia, Western Africa, and the West Indies.


Interestingly, ginger can propagate only by splitting the root, never from seed, showing that humans have cultivated it for so long it has lost its ability to go to seed. It was spread from Southern China southeastwards to the Spice Islands of Indonesia, probably more than 6000 years ago, as people spread to those areas. Then adventurous sailors crossing the Indian Ocean transplanted it to the east coast of Africa.

There would have been no room for luxuries on the boats carrying those people, so the fact that they carried with them ginger to plant in their new homes illustrates the value placed on the plant. That is no surprise, as it has been used in traditional medicines in China and India for at least 5000 years. Confucius, in the 5th century B.C.E. said ginger was never missing from his table, but warned of overeating it, lest it warm the body too much.

Confucius, c. 1770.
Confucius, c. 1770.

By at least 2000 years ago it had made its way into Ancient Roman medicine cabinets too, where it was highly prized for its warming qualities, and was prescribed for many ailments. Dioscorides, writing in the 1st century C.E., recommends it as a warming agent, to aid digestion, as a laxative, and to help combat poisoning.

Another clue to ginger’s value is shown by the fact that it is mentioned in the Qur’an as one of the two spices awaiting the righteous in the afterlife.


In Iranian Traditional Medicine, as well as Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, ginger is prescribed to treat many ailments, from a tonic to aid memory, to sooth the digestive system and as a cure for diarrhea, as an aphrodisiac, and even a remedy for paralysis.

Ginger plant. From Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen.
Ginger plant. From Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen.

Studies have reported that ginger does have an effect as an anti-nausea medicine. This effect has been attributed to its carminative properties, that is, to help reduce and expel intestinal gas.

It was also reported that women receiving ginger during pregnancy appeared to experience less vomiting and nausea compared to those receiving a placebo. But there are warnings not to consume too much, so check with your doctor first.


In food, ginger is used all around the world and in many forms, including fresh, dried, preserved, pickled, candied and ground. In India it is common in curries, as well as a seasoning in teas and coffees, and in Japan pickled ginger is a familiar accompaniment to sushi. Ginger beer, which originated in the U.K. in the mid-18th century, is still very popular world wide, both in its original alcoholic and non-alcoholic forms. And Jamaican ginger beer is another favorite of mine.

Ginger, Carrot and Date Cake
Ginger, Carrot and Date Cake

I personally love gingerbread, and of course, I can’t help but mention that Queen Elizabeth I is credited with inventing the gingerbread man. Here’s a tasty Ginger, Carrot and Date cake recipe for you to try. Give it a go!


2 Comments Add yours

  1. The ginger cake is delicious!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s