You probably know that ginger is a spice used in Asian cooking or a pickled condiment served with sushi. But did you know that ginger is also a versatile Chinese herb? It’s true! As an herb, ginger comes in a variety of forms and has a number of uses.
If you were to go to your grocery store to buy fresh ginger, you’d find it in the produce section. It comes in light brown pieces that are actually the root of a flowering plant. Ginger is a part of the zingiberaceae family, which also includes the spices turmeric and cardamom. And interestingly, ginger doesn’t exist in the wild—its origins are unknown and it’s only grown through cultivation. The plant we call Wild Ginger is actually a member of the birthwort family (Aristolochiaceae).
In Chinese herbal medicine, ginger is considered to be a warm or hot herb that is processed in a number of ways, depending on its intended use. These include:
- Fresh ginger, or Sheng Jiang. Sheng means fresh in Chinese, and Jiang is the word for ginger. Fresh ginger is used to help stop nausea and vomiting from seasickness, morning sickness, chemotherapy side-effects, or post-surgical procedures. In fact, some research has found it to be as or more effective for nausea than the motion sickness medication Dramamine. In addition, its warm properties help promote sweating to resolve a cold or a cough in the early stages. Fresh ginger is sometimes combined with other herbs to reduce their toxic properties, such as aconite (Fu Zi) or pinellia (Ban Xia).
- Gan Jiang is dried ginger. Because the ingredients are more concentrated through the drying process, it’s actually considered to be warmer than fresh ginger. It’s included in formulas to warm up your core and treat digestive problems or congested lungs. Under certain conditions, dried ginger may also be used to help stop uterine bleeding.
- Pao Jiang is ginger that’s been quick fried until the outside of the root becomes slightly blackened. Its warming properties aren’t as potent, but Pao Jiang can be more effective in controlling bleeding, such as uterine bleeding related to cold patterns.
- Ginger juice, or Sheng Jiang Zhi is used to help stop vomiting and control coughing when there’s a lot of phlegm present.
- The skin from fresh ginger root is called Sheng Jiang Pi. It’s used to help reduce edema (water swelling) by promoting urination.
- And finally, there’s Xi Xin, or wild ginger. Wild ginger isn’t actually a part of the ginger family, but it was so named because its root smells similar to fresh ginger. Wild ginger actually has many properties similar to ginger. It’s a warm herb that’s good for treating early-stage colds—especially those that have head or body aches. Wild ginger may also be used in a formula to reduce cold-related pain in general, reduce cough and help clear nasal congestion.
Ginger is one of those herbs that’s a win-win—it’s effective for a number of health conditions, but as a spice it also tastes really good! You can eat ginger fresh or dried, pickled, crystalized or candied. It also keeps well in the freezer. As a spice, ginger is a common ingredient in stir-fries and curries. And it’s used in baking ginger snap cookies and gingerbread. No time to stir fry or bake? I just grate some fresh ginger into a cup of tea—it’s delicious and warms me up on a cold winter’s day.
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.