Ginger, the rhizome of Zingiber officinale Roscoe, is best known for its role as a flavoring agent for food in Asian and Indian recipes. Since the 16th century, ginger has been used to treat various medical ailments and conditions, including migraines, arthritis, gingivitis, stroke, ulcers, constipation, diabetes, and nausea.[1,2] It is even believed to help with symptoms of the common cold or influenza. In 1807, William Roscoe, an English botanist, named the ginger plant “Zingiber” after the Sanskrit word for “horn-shaped.” The ginger family of plants consists of more than 1,200 species in 53 different genera.
It is important to note that not all ginger is the same. Genus Zingiber includes 85 species of aromatic herbs from East Asia and tropical Australia. Ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe) is often called “ginger root.” The major world producers of ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe) include China, India, and Indonesia.[2,3] While Thai ginger and wild ginger are in the ginger family, they are not the same genus or species of ginger as ginger root. For the purpose of this article, “ginger” refers to Zingiber officinale Roscoe.
Ginger is composed of volatile oils (1–3%) and nonvolatile pungent compounds. The oils are responsible for its distinct aroma, and the pungent compounds account for the “hot” or “spicy” sensation it produces in the mouth. The most abundant components of the volatile oils include zingeberene (35%), cucumene (18%), and farnesene (35%). The most abundant pungent compounds, as well as the biologically active constituents of ginger root, include gingerols, shogaols, paradols, and zingerone. Gingerols are the major active component in fresh ginger and shogaols are the more abundant active component in dried ginger. Gingerol becomes shogaol upon dehydration of fresh ginger. Overall, the major biological constituents of ginger (ranging from highest to lowest amounts by weight) are: 6-gingerol, 6-paradol, 6-shogaol, and zingerone.[1,2,4]
Owing to its medicinal properties, ginger has gained considerable attention as a dietary supplement in the United States and Europe. To date, research studies have shown biological activities of ginger to include anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiemetic, antiapoptotic, antihyperglycemic, and anticancer properties. Most recently, ginger was shown to improve wound healing in combination with curcumin, a member of the ginger family and another spice with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities.
How Is It Currently Used?
Ginger is typically consumed in the form of fresh, dried powder; an encapsulated powder or liquid extract; slices preserved in syrup; dried and preserved with a sugar coating (crystallized ginger); or as a tea flavoring. Medicinally, ginger is used primarily to quell nausea associated with motion sickness, pregnancy, the postoperative period, and cancer chemotherapy.
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