Ginger: An Ayurvedic Herb with Modern Sensibilities-A Rheumatology Perspective

Ginger root is used all over the world for spiritual enlightenment, as well as for its pro-mobility, thermogenic, and anti-inflammatory properties. In Ayurvedic medicine, the ginger plant is considered to be “sattvic,” or infused with a divine energy leading to mental clarity, empathy, and wisdom. Ancient Ayurvedic texts explain that the act of ingesting ginger confers these properties to humans. Fast forward to recent times, and research studies have uncovered several active phytochemicals in the ginger root that exert physical effects on the GI tract and immune system. When we integrate the spiritual history of ginger into the research findings, we allow for the full intelligence of the plant to be seen, and understood as an entity with both measurable and immeasurable properties.

Ginger has long been used for its’ pro-motility effect on the stomach and duodenum. Prolonged gastric emptying, or gastroparesis, is characterized by weakened contractile strength of the stomach, leading to incomplete emptying of the stomach into the intestinal tract. This pattern of food stagnation has long been recognized as a companion to inflammatory disease, and is a typical cause of the unexplained nausea or gastric reflux seen in these conditions. Studies have revealed that gingerols, one of the active components in ginger root, increases gastro-intestinal contractile strength, leading to more effective gastric emptying. However, when overused, ginger can increase gastric secretions, and worsen gastric reflux symptoms.

Ginger root can play a strong role in modulating joint inflammation, though it is often combined with other spices, including turmeric and black pepper, to potentiate this effect. Ginger inhibits the same enzymes used by NSAIDS, and it also lowers Tumor Necrosis Factor, also known as TNF, a key driver of rheumatoid arthritis. Of note, ginger is protective against the gastric irritation caused by several NSAIDS, making it a good food-as-medicine addition for people with inflammatory arthritis who require these drugs.

Ginger root is a foundational herb that bridges the gap between food ingestion and effective digestion, and supports both mental creativity and clarity. As normalizing digestion and rewiring ineffective thinking patterns is the basis for chronic disease prevention, particularly inflammatory disease, ginger is likely good dietary addition for many. Both sweet and pungent, it makes for a warming, wintery tea when combined with chai spices and rooibos, or Red Bush, tea leaves from South Africa. Here is a recipe that highlights the best aspects of ginger.

Photo by Hilary Hahn

Kitchen-Prescription Recipe: Ginger Rooibos Chai Tea


4 cups of filtered water
2/3 cup milk of your choice
2 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon ground, dried turmeric
2 teaspoons cardamom pods, lightly crushed
¼ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 quarter-sized slices of fresh ginger, lightly crushed
2 tablespoons of honey
2 tablespoons organic loose rooibos tea leaves, or 2 organic rooibos tea bags

Combine all of the ingredients in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain out the spices and tea, and whisk until frothy. Serve hot.
Makes 4 mugs of tea

Medical Mentions:

Robust tea has been anecdotally used to treat gastric reflux symptoms in South Africa, and is hence combined with ginger for this recipe. Do not drink peppermint teas if you have GERD.

Tea leaves are often heavily sprayed with herbicide, and are best used from organic sources.

Almond or cashew milk are good substitutions for cow’s milk in this recipe.

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