Notes from the Apothecary: Ginger
The spice we call ginger is the root of Zingiber officinale. The name derives from the Sanskrit for ‘Horn Body’, referring to the knobbly, ridged shape and texture of the roots. Originating from Asia, ginger is now found all over the world and is used widely in cooking, magic, and medicine.
Ginger was brought to America by Francisco de Mendosa, and it grew so prolifically that the Spanish-Americans were able to export it in huge amounts to Europe.
The Kitchen Garden
Fresh ginger is usually bought as sections of root. It’s a testament to how hardy the plant is that with very little encouragement, it will start growing! Many times I have gone to fetch the ginger only to find there are little shoots of green ginger coming off the root. With this in mind, if you wanted to cultivate your own ginger plant, it’s not too difficult at all.
WikiHow has a step by step guide to growing ginger which is very easy to follow. Ginger is normally grown indoors. Basically, you get as the same number of pieces of ginger root (or rhizome, to give it the correct name) as the number of plants you want. Each ‘eye’ or sprouting piece will grow into a new shoot, in good quality, well-drained potting compost. Avoid frost, try not to shock the roots, and you will have little ginger plants in very little time at all!
So, what do we use ginger for in the kitchen? So many things! Ground ginger is used in baking cakes, buns, muffins, breads, and even savory bakes. The fresh root is sliced or grated and added to curries, often alongside lots of garlic. Marinating meat in a combination of garlic and ginger is delicious. Add red wine vinegar and you are part way to a vindaloo. Ginger is used in a wide variety of Asian cooking. We particularly enjoy thin but wide slices of ginger in a vegetable stir fry with fragrant rice or noodles.
Mrs Grieve tells us that ginger is a stimulant- unsurprising given its ‘zingy’ flavour and aroma. She recommends it for alcoholic gastritis (an unusually specific condition) and for aiding in diarrhea and flatulent colic.
Although ginger is warming, it has anti-inflammatory properties and can settle an upset stomach. Pregnant women often take ginger biscuits to ease morning sickness. I found them useful in both my pregnancies, especially when I was finding it difficult to keep anything more substantial down. It may also aid in travel sickness and motion sickness.
Ginger is used in Ayurvedic medicine for eating disorders, cholera, and liver problems.
In Chinese medicine ginger is a respiratory aid and useful for coughs, colds and flu. It’s also used as a hangover ‘cure’, thanks to its reputation for expelling poisons from the body. As always, check with a doctor before taking any substance for medical reasons.
The Witch’s Kitchen
In Hoodoo, ginger is sometimes combined with John the Conqueror root and nutmeg to create a luck powder for gamblers. Sprinkling ginger around the garden or yard protects from trouble.
Ginger, probably due to its ‘hot’ nature, is associated with love and passion, and is often used in attraction or lust spells. Cunningham recommends using ginger in a love incense, alongside lemon balm, cardamom, cinnamon, and vanilla. A spell or mojo bag designed to attract something to you, whether that be love or wealth, can be enhanced with a bit of ginger root. Ginger can also accelerate the action of other spells, acting like a catalyst for magical action.
Cunningham’s Encyclopaedia of Magical Herbs states that ginger is a fire plant (no surprises there), masculine, and associated with Mars. This immediately gives associations with power, control, and confidence. He suggests eating ginger before performing magic to boost the power of spells.
Home and Hearth
Sometime the greatest magic is taking time for yourself and keeping yourself healthy. Modern, busy lives often make this very difficult! I know I certainly relish every spare (rare!) moment I can get to simply pause and do nothing for a while. Here’s a recipe for a ginger tea that will help you relax, while stimulating and opening your senses for a moment of mindfulness.
- An inch of ginger root, sliced
- An inch of turmeric root, sliced
- A slice of fresh lime
Place all the ingredients in a teapot in boiling or just off the boil water. Let the flavours infuse for five minutes. Can be drunk warm or left to cool and served with ice. Recipe adapted from Paleo Flourish.
Turmeric is cleansing and helps with digestion. Ginger stimulates the senses, while the fresh aroma of lime can reduce fatigue and stimulate the appetite.
I Never Knew…
Dobu Islanders have been known to chew up ginger root while sailing, and spit it at an oncoming storm to halt it in its tracks. (Cunningham, 1985.)
All images public domain or via Unsplash.
About the Author:
Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.