Powdered ginger has been used for centuries as a digestive aid and to combat nausea. It breaks down fats and proteins in food to allow easier absorption without creating gas. As a treatment for motion sickness, ginger wards off the nauseous feeling some people experience when traveling by car, airplane or boat. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that might ease arthritis symptoms and lessen the discomfort from a cold or flu.
There are substances in ginger called gingerols that give the spice its potent flavor. This oil calms stomach spasms by neutralizing acids and increasing enzymes in the digestive tract. Pregnant woman often use ginger in tea to combat morning sickness. Zingibain, another enzyme in ginger, breaks down proteins and contains anti-bacterial properties that might help calm fever, clear sinuses and break up congestion.
Studies in animals show that ginger powder slowed the growth of cancerous tumors and reduced the amount of kidney damage caused by diabetes. In laboratory tests, exposing ovarian cancer cells to ginger formulas caused the cells to die. Antioxidants in the herb may fight other diseases as well, and might lower the level of cholesterol that clogs arteries. Some proponents say powdered ginger stimulates blood circulation, which helps the muscles relax and prevents blood clots from forming.
Often called ginger root, ginger actually comes from the stem of the plant that grows underground. Fresh ginger is preferable for health benefits because it contains four oils that give it its distinct flavor. Powdered ginger can be boiled with water to make a tea, with honey used as a sweetener. Used in cooking, the flavor of ginger complements the taste of garlic.
The herb originated in Southeast Asia but grows well in any tropical area, growing best near the equator. India produces more ginger than any other country. It is also popular in China, where it is routinely used to ease the pain of menstrual cramps.
The ginger plant grows 4 inches (10.16 cm) high and blooms with pink or white flowers. Some herb gardeners cultivate pots of ginger inside the home. As the plant matures, the amount of healthful oil increases and the flavor of ginger becomes stronger. The ginger stem can be boiled and dried before being pulverized into powder. The oils can be extracted though a steaming process.
Ancient Romans imported ginger from India until the Roman Empire fell and the use of the spice declined. The exportation of the spice later came under the control of Arabs, and its cost was considered quite high. As more countries began cultivating the herb, its cost came down and it became readily available in most grocery stores. Ginger is related to the turmeric and cardamom family and is best known for its use in gingerbread cookies.