Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Guest Blogger - The Wonders of Ginger

Guest blogger, Sylvia Newberry, returns with her insights into the wonders of Ginger.

This information suggests ways to promote and maintain health.
It is not intended to take the place of personalized medical counseling,
diagnosis, and treatment from a trained health professional

I make it a practice to use primarily herbs and medicinal plants that I can either grow in my garden or find growing in the fields and woodlands that are close by. I don’t always wild harvest the herbs that I use. I recognize that some of them have been harvested to the point they are in danger of extinction. American Ginseng and Goldenseal are two such plants. Other plants are in abundant supply, but require a lot of time and work to harvest and process with a high quality end product. I have found suppliers of high quality herbs and I often purchase what I need from them. I believe that I am helping to support those individuals who make a living by devoting their time and energies to growing and processing these plants. I do watch the plants, like dandelion, burdock, nettle, and yellow dock emerge in the spring and grow through the summer and fall, and I believe that I learn a lot about the plant and its properties and how it is most effectively used by making these observations.

But there is one tropical herb that has become a mainstay for winter health in my family and also in the advice that I give to others who come seeking ways to stay healthy. And that herb is ginger (Zingiber officinalis). It is a plant that will never survive in my Vermont garden. I make frequent trips during the fall and winter, seeking out juicy pieces of ginger root in the produce section of the local grocery stores. Sometimes there are large clusters of root that resemble a hand. Sometimes the pieces of root are smaller and have fewer branches. The most important features to look for are a smooth healthy skin that suggests freshness and lots of juice in the flesh of the root.

Once home, I break the root into pieces that are relative straight and easy to peel. I have found a carrot scraper works well for peeling. I have also used a small paring knife. And I have seen folks use the tip of a teaspoon to scrap away the outer layer. It isn’t a difficult task, whatever the tool you choose. The skin is thin and papery and one good thing about ginger is that it does not make you cry like onions do when you peel them.

Once peeled, I bring out my cutting board and slice the root into thin rounds. The flesh is very fiberous, but if you are using a knife that is sharp, the fibers will cut easily. I have tried slicing the ginger root in my food processor, but the blade did not cut through the fibers and I was left with a pile of ginger mush. This is not always bad, depending on what you are aiming for. It was bad for me because I wanted thin slices.

I pile the sliced ginger into a medium sized sauce pan and pour in about an equal amount of honey. If you spend any time at all with me, you will learn that my formulation of herbal remedies is often more of an art than an exact science. You want enough honey to coat the ginger slices when you stir them around, but you do not need much more than that. But if you pour in more than you need, you will still end up with a usable product. Place the sauce pan over medium heat and find something to do in the immediate vicinity so that you can keep an eye on the honey and ginger. Stir the mixture every once in awhile. And don’t stray beyond the point you can see the mixture. As the ginger and honey heat and simmer, the honey pulls the juices out of the ginger slices, increasing the volume of liquid in the pot. You want to bring it to a simmer and allow it to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. But I can tell you from repeated experience, the brew will move from barely breaking bubbles on the surface to full foam, spreading with lightening speed all over your stove top. My stove has never been cleaned as many times as it has since I began to make ginger honey syrup.

After 15 to 20 minutes – remember art, not science – remove the pan from the heat. At this point you can decide to strain out the slices of ginger if you wish. I have seen directions to spread the slices on a sheet of waxed or parchment paper that has been sprinkled with granulated sugar, turning to coat both sides. And then, either leaving them on the paper or putting them on a rack like you use to cool baked goods so the air can circulate. The dried slices are great to suck on or to chew to help relieve nausea, and are even safe to use as a remedy for morning sickness and for motion sickness. They will also aid in digestion after a heavy meal. Just a word of caution – you will find these slices contain more “heat” than the commercially available candied ginger.

I leave the ginger slices and the honey syrup together and pour the mixture into small glass canning jars. If I have made more than enough for immediate use, I will water bath the jars to seal them, although I have not had unsealed jars spoil. I leave one pint sized jar out on the kitchen counter. At this time of year it rarely stays full for long. We have come to depend upon the syrup as a remedy that aids with both the prevention and the treatment of colds and flu. We spoon out a couple of generous teaspoonfuls, slices included, and fill the cup with hot water. Stir, sip, and enjoy. If I am going out to shovel snow from the deck and want to increase the circulation to my fingertips while out in the cold, I will add a splash of cayenne pepper (Capsicum frutescens) or tabasco sauce to the tea. If we notice symptoms of a cold developing, we will add a splash of lemon juice and some elderberry syrup to the blend. Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) is a well respected European cold and flu remedy that is a good complement to the ginger. Some will vouch for the fact that ginger seems to relieve the joint pain associated with some forms of arthritis and made worse by the cold. And as mentioned previously, the syrup/tea can also be used to soothe digestive upsets.

The ingredients are safe and simple. There are some concerns about giving honey to infants less than a year old because of the risk of botulism and their under developed immune systems. You are wise to follow the advice you have been given regarding this concern.

The next time you are shopping, look for the fresh ginger root. Even if you are not inclined to make or use the syrup, you may find other ways to include this tropical herb into your winter diet. I think it is fun to remember some of the ways that people do use this tropical herb to support their health.

Sylvia Newberry worked as a registered nurse for more than 30 years. She currently has a healing practice where she offers energy work, guided imagery, and medicinal herbs. A Reiki master, she offers all levels of attunement to both groups and individuals. She teaches classes about the common, safe healing plants, identifying, growing, and how they can be effectively used. Her website is www.rnhealer.byregion.com and you can leave her a message at The Healing Arts Clinic in Windsor, VT 802-674-7037.

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