Though ginger (Zingiber officinale) grows in tropical regions, its fresh root is available far and wide, year round, and can easily be made into a wide variety of warming home remedies that are perfect for chilly Northern winters. Ginger root lends its spicy, lemony taste to soups, stir-fries, applesauce, and baked goods. Medicinally, it relieves nausea and motion sickness, and encourages good digestion by relaxing the digestive tract, promoting gastric secretions, and dispelling gas. Ginger increases circulation, supports the respiratory system, breaks up mucus, and stimulates perspiration, making it a great cold and flu remedy. It also possesses antibacterial and antiviral properties. The root moves pelvic congestion and relieves menstrual cramps, used both internally and externally. Note: Care should be taken during pregnancy not to take too much ginger, check with your midwife or doctor. Due to its warming nature, ginger may irritate certain hot conditions such as ulcers, or just be too dang hot for those with hot, fiery constitutions.
The recipes below focus on fresh ginger root, but feel free to experiment with dry ginger. In general, and with ginger in particular, when following recipes, less dry herb is required than fresh herb since its moisture has been removed, making its flavors and properties more concentrated. Energetically, dried ginger root is hot and dry, whereas fresh ginger root is warming and juicy. Crystallized ginger root is also widelyavailable and can be added to a first aid kit and carried on trips. There are a few recipes included below, but don’t feel limited to these! Add fresh, dried, and/or crystallized ginger the next time you make scones, chicken, coffee, cookies, anything!
Ginger is one of the few non-local plants that I use in my herbal remedies. I use it in Elderberry Ginger Elixir for immune health, Tigress Balm warming muscle rub, Chocolate Spice Elixir* warming aphrodisiac, and Crampease Blend to ease menstrual cramps. I was really excited to learn last year of a source for locally-grown ginger - Old Friends Farm in Amherst, Massachusetts. You can find Old Friends Farm's ginger at Plainfield Co-op in Plainfield, Vermont. Also, if you're lucky enough to find yourself at one of the many farmers markets in Central Maine that Snakeroot Organic Farm of Pittsfield, Maine vends at, you can buy some fresh ginger directly from the farmers! Luckily I got my hands on some roots during this autumn's harvest season and I've started making medicine from the young, fresh, and vital roots from these local farms - see photo below of the the freshly grated root.
Warming Ginger Brew
To make your own warming winter ginger brew, grate a 1 to 2 inch piece fresh ginger root into a medium sized pot of water. Some prefer to peel the root, but if you’re using organic ginger this is not necessary. Cover the pot and simmer for 10-20 minutes. If you are unable to simmer your tea, you can simply grate, chop, or thinly slice the root, pour hot water over it, cover, and let it steep for a few minutes. Strain out the plant bits if you wish, and viola! Your ginger brew is complete and can be used in various ways:
Beverage Tea: To warm up after a day out in the cold, drink your ginger brew on its own or with milk (cow, goat, rice, coconut, etc.) and maple syrup, honey, or another sweetener. You can also add a cinnamon stick, black peppercorns, cardamom pods, and a clove to simmer along with the ginger on the (wood)stove.
Cold and Flu Tea: For an excellent cold and flu remedy, turn your ginger brew into Hot Ginger Lemonade. Add the juice of one lemon or lime, a couple spoonfuls of honey, and a pinch of cayenne powder to a quart of ginger tea. This hot drink is warming, contains vitamin C, and soothes a sore throat.
In the Bath: Your ginger brew can be used as a foot bath, or added to bath water, for its warming and circulation-increasing properties. This is a good treatment when you’re feeling under the weather, and foot baths especially help draw your energy down, helping to relieve headaches and promote rest and sleep. (You can try other herbs as well, such as Lavender and Roses.)
Warming Compress: Ginger compresses are muscle-soothing, cramp-easing, inflammation-reducing, and promote warmth and movement in congested areas. To soothe and warm your lower back/kidneys, abdomen/pelvic area, lungs, wrists, or other areas, soak a washcloth or other clean cloth into the hot ginger brew. Once cool enough to handle, but still quite hot, apply the cloth. Before it cools down, submerge the cloth back into the hot tea and then reapply, or cover the cloth with a hot water bottle to keep it warm. Rest like this for 15-30 minutes. Be sure to bundle up and keep warm afterwards! Another, dryer compress method is to pour a small amount of water into ginger powder until it is a thick paste. Open a 3" gauze bandage so that you have a wide band of gauze. Apply the paste to the gauze, and then place the gauze on the affected area, with the paste side facing out. You can cover with a layer of plastic, such as a grocery bag, and then apply a hot water bottle.
To make a quick and delicious remedy to relieve congestion, boost your immune system, and soothe a sore throat, simply grate fresh ginger root into honey, preferably raw, local honey. The moisture from the juicy root will thin the honey out a bit, creating a syrup consistency. You can take this infused honey by the spoonful or stir it into warm water to make an instant ginger tea. Use this up within a few days and keep it refrigerated.
Ginger Aphrodisiac Recipes
The candlelit photo to the right is of some of the ingredients from my Chocolate Spice Elixir.* For aphrodisiac-y ginger recipes, such as Chocolate Ginger Truffles, please see my Valentine's Aphrodisiac Recipes and Chocolate Explosion! posts.
Ginger’s warming, stimulating, and relaxing properties make a great decongesting and muscle-soothing salve. To make your own non-petroleum based alternative to Tiger Balm, first warm 1 cup of sesame and/or olive oil together in a double boiler over low heat. Grate a small handful of fresh ginger into the oil and keep on low heat for at least an hour, letting the ginger’s properties infuse into the oil. Strain out the ginger and return the oil to the double boiler. If you have fresh ginger tincture (alcohol extract), add a few dropperfuls at this time, and warm the oil on low heat until all the water/alcohol drops have evaporated. Add 4 tablespoons of grated or chopped beeswax, and let the wax slowly melt as you stir the oil. Dip a spoon into the mixture and blow on it until it’s solid. If the salve is too hard, add more oil. If it’s too soft, add more beeswax. Once you have the consistency you’re seeking, remove from heat and pour your salve into dry, clean containers right away. If you wish, add a few drops of essential oils and give your salve a stir, so that the oils all blend together. Some essential oils you can add include: Ginger, Eucalyptus, Peppermint, Thyme, and Lavender. To make a potent balm, you can add 15-20 drops per ounce - just keep in mind that essential oils are very concentrated, so use less if your skin tends to be sensitive. Place the lids on the salves jars right away to maintain its medicinal properties, and then let them cool. Salve-making can be messy, so leave yourself some time for clean up. Also, be sure to have plenty of extra jars because somehow more salve always appears. Most salves keep for about a year, and keep best if kept in a cool, dark place, rather than letting them melt and remelt in a hot car, for example.
For more detailed information about making infused oils and salves, please see previous post: (Im)migration and Lip Balms for Social Justice?!
Ginger Salts and Scrub:
Ginger Salts: To make your own ginger bath salts, simply grate a handful of fresh ginger into a cup of sea salt. Let your salts infuse for at least a few days. You can sift the ginger out if you don’t want ginger bits in your bath, or if you don’t mind, you can just leave them. You can make ginger bath salts with dried ginger, using 2 tablespoons of powder per cup of sea salt. You can also try a combination of both fresh and dried ginger. Remember that ginger is strong, and begin with just a couple tablespoons per bath and work your way up if you’d like.
Ginger Scrub: To make a warming body scrub, simply add oil to your bath salts. Some prefer to add just enough oil to moisten the salts, while others completely cover the salts with oil. You can use olive, sesame, grapeseed, coconut, or apricot kernel oil. One of my favorite scrubs is Cardamom Ginger Warming Sugar Scrub with Sesame oil, which I make with fair trade brown sugar and use in the winter to exfoliate the skin, promote circulation, and warm the body. You can see the recipe here.
Immune Soup: Using miso paste and herbs, you can create a soup base that can be stored in the fridge long term. This is especially nice when you aren’t feeling well and you don’t have an abundance of energy to put into cooking.
½ cup Miso
2 tblsp fresh Ginger, grated or finely chopped
3 cloves Garlic, crushed and finely chopped
1 tblsp fresh Turmeric root, grated or chopped finely, or 1 tsp Turmeric powder
pinch of Cayenne pepper
Mix all ingredients together. To make a soup, just put a spoonful of the paste into a bowl or mug, cover with hot water, and stir. Remember not to boil your miso, or its good living organisms will be killed. You can add sliced scallions to the broth.
For a heartier immune-supporting soup by sautéing and simmering onions, garlic, shiitake mushrooms, burdock root, carrots, dark leafy greens, etc. in water or broth.
Immune Spread: To make a spread for crackers and bread, add ½ cup tahini (sesame paste) and/or ½ cup honey to the miso herb paste.
Fire Cider is a spicy concoction that boosts the immune system and relieves sinus congestion. You can take a daily shot of fire cider to keep you well through the winter months, or take as needed. You can also use your fire cider topically, as a liniment to rub into sore muscles and aching joints or as a compress, soaking a clean cloth in fire cider to place on a congested chest.
¼ -½ cup Horseradish root, grated
1 head of Garlic, chopped
1 Onion, chopped
¼ - ½ cup of Ginger, grated
1 tsp Cayenne pepper
1 quart organic Apple Cider Vinegar
Place herbs in a quart jar and cover with apple cider vinegar. Cover tightly with a non-metal lid (or put a piece of plastic or waxed paper between the jar and metal lid). Infuse for a month, shaking daily. After a month, strain and rebottle into a clean glass jar with a plastic lid. You can add honey to taste, if you wish. You can also eat the spicy strained herbs!
2 large Ginger roots
1 cup Rice Vinegar
5 to 7 tablespoons Sugar
1 teaspoon Salt
Wash the ginger root and peel or rub off the skin. Slice the ginger thinly and salt them. Leave salted ginger slices in a bowl for one hour. Dry the ginger slices with paper towels and put them in a sterilized container/jar. Mix rice vinegar and sugar in a pan and bring to a boil. Pour the hot mixture of vinegar and sugar on the ginger. Cool, then cover with a lid and place in the refrigerator. In a week, the ginger changes its color to light pink. The pickled ginger lasts about a month in the fridge. Pickled ginger is served with sushi. Try to eat pieces of pickled ginger between different kinds of sushi. It helps to clean your mouth and enhance the flavors. This info is taken from this recipe, and this one too.
Coconut-Ginger Spiced Carrot Soup
5 medium Carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds
1 Leek, chopped (dark green parts removed)
1 medium Potato, diced
3 cloves Garlic, finely chopped
1 ½ inches Ginger root, finely minced (about 2 tbsp)
1 can Coconut Milk (for a dairy version, substitute half and half or whipping cream)
4 cups Stock or Water
1/2 cup dry White Wine (optional)
2 tbsp. Vegetable oil
1 tsp. sweet Paprika
1 tsp. Turmeric
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Heat vegetable oil in a medium-sized pot. Add onions, sauté about 2 minutes. Add leeks and garlic; sauté in pot for about 4-5 minutes until softened, but not browned. Add carrots; stir vegetable mixture until carrots begin to caramelize a bit, about 6 more minutes (watch to prevent over-cooking). Add potato, ginger, stock, and coconut milk (note- if using dairy cream, wait until soup is fully cooked, then add cream and heat to serving temperature); allow mixture to come to a boil for about 5 minutes; reduce heat and add spices (turmeric, paprika, salt, pepper). Cover and simmer on low until potatoes are tender, about 20-25 minutes. Puree soup in batches in the blender, or use a hand-held blending appliance to obtain a smooth, velvety textured soup. Garnish soup with roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds). Recipe from here.
Hooray for Ginger in all its Glory!
Elderberry (and other) Syrup Recipes
Valentine's Aphrodisiac Recipes
Winter Immune Health: Tonic Not Toxic
Ideas and Remedies for When You're Home Sick...
*Chocolate Spice Elixir is no longer available on the Dandelioness Herbals online Etsy shop, but can be purchased at markets, through Paypal, or by contacting dandelionessherbals (at) yahoo (dot) com