Ginger root, zingiber officinale, is a common product found in many kitchens. Along with its ability to enhance the taste of both savory and sweet foods, ginger also serves as a good medicinal aid for multiple ailments.
According to Ayurveda, ginger’s overall qualities are:
We can also investigate the qualities of ginger in accordance with its medicinal properties, or dravyaguna, which are:
- flavor “rasa” (taste on the tongue)
- potency “virya” (shift in body temperature)
- post-digestive effect “vipak” (long-lasting effects on the body after the digestion process is complete)
As I explain these qualities, imagine sipping warm ginger tea…this may help you understand them better.
When you enjoy ginger tea, you may first notice its pungent taste, or rasa. After consuming it you will start to feel warmer (especially in cooler weather). That’s the virya, or potency of ginger, which is heating. And finally, you may notice a soothing effect after consumption of ginger and that is the vipak or post-digestive effect, which is sweating and calming.
The Therapeutic Uses of Ginger
Ginger is used therapeutically worldwide. In Ayurvedic medicine it is specifically used for symptoms involving phlegm, congestion or respiratory distress. In addition, it is used when indigestion or imbalances of the doshas occur, which means that one is progressing rapidly towards ill health.
Initial Ayurvedic care focuses on the assessment and treatment of indigestion at various physiological and cellular levels of the body because it largely contributes to the formation and accumulation of toxins, or ama. This toxicity from indigested food is considered a very first sign of dis-ease.
The proper use of ginger with an appropriate carrying liquid ingredient such as water, honey, ghee or oil (called anupana) is essential for bringing the right quality of ginger to the forefront for the desired purpose.
Let us look at a few ways that ginger is used with an anupana for a desired purpose.
- Using ginger water as a medium to transport other herbs to the cellular level is very effective, e.g., triphala powder taken with ginger tea.
- Anti-arthritis herbs such as moringa given with ginger extract enhances the action of the herb itself and helps ignite the bone tissue channels (shrotas agni). This itself can be profound in eliminating ama or toxins accumulated in the joints, causing symptoms like joint stiffness, inflammation or degeneration.
- Ginger pulp is reviving when used as a jam (kaandapaka) preparation for long-term general weakness, loss of appetite or lack of strength and helps restore digestive enzyme secretion.
- To reduce fever, ginger juice given with honey or black pepper helps digest the toxins (ama) and ignite the digestive fire in the stomach (jataragni), causing sweating. Ayurveda states that the main cause of any kind of fever is an imbalanced state of jataragni.
Uses of Dried vs. Fresh Ginger
This question always arises as many wonder, “What is suitable for my dosha, fresh or dried ginger?”
Ginger that is dried and powdered is called shunthi. Shunthi has the same rasa (taste) as fresh ginger, but the metabolic post-digestive effect (vipaka) is sweet. This unique feature of shunthi makes it a powerful aid to heal pitta disorders like hyperacidity, vomiting and nausea by not aggravating the pitta “fire” bio energy. Shunthi, being soft and sweet in metabolic effect, gives good results where digestion and balance of pitta is needed. A good example would be skin conditions such as eczema and acne. Sun-dried powdered ginger is powerful and helps heal symptoms in pitta nature (prakruti) people who are generally delicate and sensitive to heat or hot spices.
Fresh ginger, when added in various combinations with either herbs or food, has the power to deal with any signs and symptoms involving circulation, respiration, elimination or pain management—all kapha and vata “air and water” bio energy disorders.
People generally believe that fresh ginger in warm to hot water tea is good for everyone. This is true only for those who live in tropical weather climates, as it helps rekindle digestive strength.
However, in countries like Canada and the USA where pitta prominence is environmentally induced, switching to dry ginger helps re-ignite the digestive strength. This recycles and reduces accumulated toxins from weak digestive power and pacifies the environmental pitta dominance coming through the climate, high ozone or radiation.
Dried ginger is itself a good rejuvenator and can be used to refurbish all the body tissues (dhatus) and maintain optimal efficiency.
Our bodies are constantly undergoing changes in their dosha equilibrium and use of fresh ginger/dry ginger as per one’s prakruti (constitution), occupational hazards and lifestyle can help maintain balance.
Contributor: Bhavna Mehta, BAMS (India)
Senior Faculty Member at the Centre for Ayurveda & Indian Systems of Healing