Ginger: Getting To The “Root” Of Its Benefits

Vaness Monteiro headshot

by Vanessa Monteiro


You may already know this: ginger is one of the most commonly used dietary spices in the world and is a member of the Zingiberaceae plant family which includes spices like turmeric and cardamom. (1) Ginger root has been used for thousands of years, primarily for its health benefits in ancient Asia.

During the Roman Empire, ginger gained popularity as an ingredient for cooking and became an important product of trade. Its value continued throughout the years to a point in the medieval era where a pound of ginger was equivalent to the cost of a sheep!

The main part of ginger that is used is the root or rhizome which contains many bioactive components such as the ketone [6]-gingerol. This organic compound is what gives ginger its pungent taste and provides a large number of health benefits. (2)

Fresh ginger root and ground ginger spice on wooden background

The main part of ginger that is used is the root or rhizome which contains many bioactive components such as the ketone [6]-gingerol.

Read on to get to know more about the many health benefits of ginger!

Top health benefits of ginger

You may be familiar with the sweet, spicy, and peppery taste that ginger contributes to food, but ginger has even more health benefits that you can take advantage of outside the kitchen!

Did you know?
Though similar in name and flavor, wild ginger and the ginger we use in food are not the same types of plant. Consuming wild ginger can be dangerous as it comes from the Asarum plant family which are known for containing the dangerous substance aristolochic acid. The FDA has warned against aristolochic acid as it is nephrotoxic (toxic to your kidneys) and a carcinogen (cancer-causing agent). (3)

Relieving nausea

One of the most well-known benefits of ginger is its ability to relieve nausea. Generally speaking, this benefit is thought to be due to ginger’s ability to help get rid of intestinal gas by encouraging your stomach to empty. (4) However, other studies show the reduction in nausea is caused by positive effects on your body’s central nervous system. (5)

For those suffering from morning sickness, ginger has been shown to reduce nausea and vomiting with less drowsiness than standard dimenhydrinate (aka Gravol or Dramamine) treatment. (6) A recommended dose of 250mg taken every 6 hours (about 3 – 4 times a day) is suggested to improve these symptoms or when trying to manage motion sickness. (7)(8)

Of late, the anti-emetic (anti-nausea) benefits of ginger are being applied to counter the side effects of chemotherapy treatment. (5) To reduce nausea associated with chemotherapy a higher amount is typically suggested. (9) Historically ginger has been found to be safe when used for cooking and in smaller amounts. However, more research is needed to assess if there are any negative side effects when larger doses of ginger are used as a medical treatment.

Reducing pain and inflammation

Similar to the effects of curcumin from turmeric, research suggests ginger may have anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-relief) health benefits. The gingerols in ginger interact with a protein receptor in your body called TRPV1 (transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily V member 1). (10) Ginger activates the TRPV1 receptor in a way that desensitizes its actions; TRPV1 is typically activated by heat and pain stimuli and reacts by causing your body to feel scalding heat and pain.

There are two studies that have shown ginger reduced pain for a group of patients suffering from osteoarthritis when compared to no intervention or placebo. (11)(12) Similarly, a double-blind study of women suffering from dysmenorrhea (period cramps or a painful period) found they received relief comparable to standard pain relief medication such as ibuprofen when taking ginger supplements (250mg capsules). (13)

Cup of Ginger tea with lemon and honey on a dark blue background, top view

To make a cup of ginger tea, add about 1g freshly grated ginger to 150mL of hot water and let it steep for 5 – 10 minutes. For some extra flavor add lemon and honey!

Protecting your heart

For those who are at a high risk of heart attack, particularly if they have experienced one before, acetylsalicylic acid (ASA, aspirin) can be recommended as an important part of their preventative treatment. (14) Individuals with a cardiovascular event risk often have plaque build-up in their arteries and this encourages blood clotting (thrombosis). The resulting clots reduce blood flow which can lead to a heart attack or other dangerous cardiovascular events. Aspirin, often referred to as a blood thinner helps lower this risk by preventing platelets (a component of blood that forms clots) from clumping together and creating a blockage.

Similar to aspirin, ginger has properties that reduce clotting and help with cardiovascular health. A small study of men who ate regular amounts of butter (which increased clotting) saw reduced platelet activity when they supplemented their diet with ginger. (15) This — along with a study on synthetic gingerols — showed that ginger was able to inhibit platelet aggregation and suggests further studies into ginger as a preventative treatment for cardiovascular disease may prove to be beneficial. (16)

How to use ginger at home

Now that you are aware of all the benefits of ginger, why not try incorporating this flavorful spice into your diet?

If you are not familiar with ginger, the fresh root can typically be found at your local grocery store in the vegetable section, often sold by weight. When selecting ginger, break off the size that you need as the pieces you find in the grocery store can be quite large. If the ginger root is fresh, it should snap off quite easily and the skin shouldn’t appear too wrinkled. If you prefer not to use fresh ginger root, you can also purchase it dried, crystallized (candied), powdered or minced in jars.

If you cook with ginger a couple of times a week, store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge. Alternatively, if ginger appears less frequently in your meals, you can freeze the leftover pieces. Just remember that if you are setting aside leftovers to store, you should leave those pieces unpeeled so they last longer.

graded ginger on wooden plate with raw ginger and a grader next to it

You can easily grate ginger to add it into teas and other foods that you are preparing.

When preparing fresh ginger root, start by scraping off the skin which can be easily done using the back of a spoon. If you find it easier you can use a knife to shave off the sides so that you create a simple block that may be easier to chop. Another easy way to prep ginger is to grate the root once the skin has been removed.

With your chopped or grated ginger, you can now incorporate the spice into a large variety of foods! Some things you can use ginger for include:

  • Ginger tea: To make a cup of ginger tea, add about 1g freshly grated ginger to 150mL of hot water (7)(8) and let it steep for 5 – 10 minutes. For some extra flavor add lemon and honey!
  • Curries, stir-fries, and soups: You can add ginger to the pan while creating your sauce or add it earlier on in the prep as part of a marinade.
  • Gingerbread: Enjoy homemade gingerbread cookies with the added bonus of ginger’s health benefits! If you are a fan of gingerbread lattes you can try a DIY recipe that adds the gingerbread flavoring using a custom blend of ground spices including ginger, cinnamon, and cloves.

The bottom line

Though the age of the spice trade is long gone, ginger remains an ingredient many are eager to get their hands on. Whether it is improving the flavor of your food or adding nutritional value to your health, ginger really is a jack-of-all-trades spice!

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  1. Surh Y. J. Molecular mechanisms of chemopreventive effects of selected dietary and medicinal phenolic substances. Mutat Res. 1999;428(1-2):305–27. PMID: 10518003
  2. Bode AM, Dong Z. The Amazing and Mighty Ginger. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. Chapter 7. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92775/
  3. U. S. Food and Drug Administration. Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. (2009). Import Alert 54-10: Detention Without Physical Examination of Bulk/Finished Dietary Supplements Products Containing Aristolochic Acid. FDA import alerts. Washington, DC. Available from: https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/cms_ia/importalert_141.html
  4. Wu K. L, Rayner C. K, Chuah S. K, editors. et al. Effects of ginger on gastric emptying and motility in healthy humans. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2008;20(5):436–40. DOI: 10.1097/MEG.0b013e3282f4b224
  5. E. Ernst and M. H. Pittler. Efficacy of ginger for nausea and vomiting: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. British Journal of Anaesthesia 84 (3): 367–71 (2000). Available from: https://bjanaesthesia.org/article/S0007-0912(17)38837-2/pdf
  6. Vutyavanich, Kraisarin, T, Ruangsri, R. Ginger for nausea and vomiting in pregnancy: randomized, double-masked, placebo-controlled trial. Obstet Gynecol. 2001 Apr;97(4):577-82. PMID: 11275030
  7. Justin Bailey MD. (2019). Conn’s Current Therapy: Gaseousness, Indigestion, Nausea, and Vomiting. Elsevier, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Pages 15-19. Available from: https://www.elsevier.ca/ca/product.jsp?isbn=9780323596480
  8. Miriam Chan PharmD. (2019). Conn’s Current Therapy: Popular Herbs and Nutritional Supplements. Elsevier, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Pages 1351-1360. Available from: https://www.elsevier.ca/ca/product.jsp?isbn=9780323596480
  9. Lucille R. Marchand MD, BSN and James A. Stewart MD, FACP. (2018). Integrative Medicine (4th Edition). Chapter 78: Breast Cancer, 772-784.e7. Elsevier, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Available from: https://www.elsevier.ca/ca/product.jsp?isbn=9780323358682
  10. Dedov VN, Tran VH, Duke CC, et al. Gingerols: a novel class of vanilloid receptor (VR1) agonists. Br J Pharmacol. 2002;137(6):793–798. DOI: 10.1038/sj.bjp.0704925
  11. Altman RD, Marcussen KC. Effects of a ginger extract on knee pain in patients with osteoarthritis. Arthritis Rheum. 2001 Nov;44(11):2531-8. PMID: 11710709
  12. Bliddal H, Rosetzsky A, Schlichting P, Weidner MS, Andersen LA, Ibfelt HH, Christensen K, Jensen ON, Barslev J. A randomized, placebo-controlled, cross-over study of ginger extracts and ibuprofen in osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2000 Jan;8(1):9-12. DOI: 10.1053/joca.1999.0264
  13. Ozgoli G, Goli M, Moattar F. Comparison of effects of ginger, mefenamic acid, and ibuprofen on pain in women with primary dysmenorrhea. J Altern Complement Med. 2009 Feb;15(2):129-32. DOI: 10.1089/acm.2008.0311.
  14. National Clinical Guideline Centre (UK) (July 2013). Myocardial infarction with ST-segment elevation: the acute management of myocardial infarction with ST-segment elevation. NICE Clinical Guidelines (167). 17.2 Asprin. PMID: 25340241
  15. Verma S. K, Singh J, Khamesra R, Bordia A. Effect of ginger on platelet aggregation in man. Indian J Med Res. 1993;98:240–2. PMID: 8119760
  16. Koo K. L, Ammit A. J, Tran V. H, Duke C. C, Roufogalis B. D. Gingerols and related analogues inhibit arachidonic acid-induced human platelet serotonin release and aggregation. Thromb Res. 2001;103(5):387–97. PMID: 11553371