Ginger (Zingiber officianale)
Mary Ellen Wilcox
Mar/Apr '12 Essential Herbal Magazine
The legends of the ancient world abound with stories of the magical powers of spices, ginger being among them. It grew extensively in China, and was one of the spices revered by Emperor Shen-Nung, founder of Chinese medicine, who lived in about 2800 BC. He consumed large quantities of ground spices each day to preserve health and prolong his life.
In 550 BC Confucius advised his followers not to eat any food that was not properly flavored with spices. Ships traveling between ports at that time carried pots of fresh ginger to prevent scurvy among the sailors. In early practices of Chinese medicine ginger was recommended as a heart strengthener.
In early Hindu medicine ginger was used to treat liver problems, rheumatism and jaundice. Given the approval of Islam, it was mentioned in the Koran as a medicine. The Greek physician Dioscorides referred to ginger’s warming effect on the stomach as an aid to digestion and an antidote to poison. The English have always been taken with ginger. Henry VIII ate huge quantities of it to protect against the plague. American Indians made a decoction of root ginger for stomach upsets. Ginger is part of many cures for the common cold. One is a blend of ginger, white horseradish, hyssop and coltsfoot. Another is a mixture of ground ginger, cinnamon, mustard seed and cayenne pepper made into a paste with honey. This is smeared on a piece of flannel and is placed on the chest and covered with warm clothing. This is said to relieve chest congestion.
To enjoy the soothing powers of ginger, make a tea:
2-1/2 cups water
½ oz. bruised ginger root or powdered ginger.
Put the bruised root or powder in a pot and pour boiling water over it. Let set for ½ hour, strain liquid, and allow to cool. Take 2 tbsp. at a time.
In addition to the medicinal attributes of ginger, it is used extensively in cooking and baking, and is available in several forms. Fresh ginger is the type sold in grocery stores. The smooth skin is tan colored. The texture is crunchy with a strong scent. Do not buy ginger with wrinkled skin, as it will not be fresh. To store fresh ginger, wrap it first in paper towel, then tightly in plastic wrap. It should keep this way in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks. Preserved ginger is cooked and packed in heavy sugar syrup. It can be used in baking or is delicious spooned over fruit. Crystallized ginger, also known as candied ginger is cooked in a sweet syrup, cooled, and coated in sugar. It can be nibbled as a candy, or added to cookie recipes. Ground ginger has a different flavor and is not as pungent or strong. It should not be substituted for fresh gingers. It is excellent for gingerbread, spice cake, or gingerbread cutouts at Christmastime.
Ginger is grown in several locations around the world. In their travels the Portuguese planted it down the coast of Africa, so now it is produced in Sierra Leone and Nigeria. Further afield, it grows in Thailand, Taiwan, Australia and China. The Spanish planted the rhizomes in Jamaica. Jamaican ginger is considered the finest in the world. The majority of ginger imported to the U.S. is from Jamaica. England and the U.S. are the biggest users of the spice.
Some ginger recipes:
8 tbsp. butter, melted
1/2 cup molasses
2 large eggs
2 cups flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1-1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt (optional)
1 cup rolled oats
2/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup walnuts
Preheat over to 350 degrees. Mix together the butter, molasses and eggs. Sift the flour, baking powder, spices and salt into another bowl. Stir in oats. Gradually mix in the molasses mixture and sour cream. Fold in raisins and walnuts. Spoon the batter into a loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes then turn out on rack and cool.Nectarine Chutney
10 large nectarines, pitted and quartered
2 large apple, chopped
Grated rind of 3 lemons
1 cup brown sugar
1-1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1-1/2 cup raisins
2 inch piece fresh ginger root, bruised
2 cloves garlic, crushed
6 black peppercorns
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 cup white wine vinegar
Put the nectarines, apples, lemon rind and juice, sugar, walnuts, raisins, ginger, garlic, peppercorns, cayenne, cinnamon and half the vinegar in a saucepan. Stir well and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the remaining vinegar and continue simmering, stirring occasionally for 1-1/2 hours or until the chutney is thick. Ladle into jars. Label and store in refrigerator.Ginger Walnut Biscotti
2 cups flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
1/4 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup candied ginger, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a heavy baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk the flour and baking powder in a medium bowl to blend. Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar, butter, lemon zest, and salt in a large bowl. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time. Add the flour mixture an beat just until blended. Stir in walnuts and ginger.
Form the dough into a 13-inch long and 3-inch wide log on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until light golden brown, about 40 minutes. Cool 30 minutes.
Place the log on the cutting board. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the log on a diagonal into 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices. Arrange the biscotti, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Bake the biscotti until they are pale golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer the biscotti to a rack and cool completely. Store in airtight container for up to 4 days.