Podcast 227: Herbs A-Z: Zingiber 🫚

Today we reach the end of our apothecary shelves! This series started way back with episode 170 on Achillea & Acorus, and today in episode 227 we’ve finally come to Zingiber.

Today’s entire episode is all about ginger. (Yes, it deserves its own entire episode. If you don’t already believe it, we will convince you!)

We discuss Katja’s evolving preference for fresh vs dried ginger in our tea blends at home, and some of the variations in activity between fresh vs dried ginger. We talk about quick topical applications of this wildly accessible herb, to relieve muscle aches, joint pains, and other musculoskeletal discomforts. Ryn takes time for an ode to candied ginger – yes, it’s sugar, but there are plenty of reasons why it’s excellent to have! You can easily make your own, too.

Maybe you could put some chopped candied ginger into some ginger-chamomile cookies, eh?

You can even grow your own ginger, if you’re up for it!

Finally, we mention some relatives of ginger, members of the Zingiberaceae: turmeric (Curcuma longa), galangal (Alpinia galanga), cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), grains of paradise (Aframomum melegueta), korarima (Aframomum corrorima), “shampoo ginger lily / bitter ginger” (Zingiber zerumbet). These are all worth experimenting with and comparing to ginger – they have a lot in common, with some individual nuances. Watch out for “wild gingers” of the Asarum genus, though – those have risks of liver toxicity.

Digestive Health 1

Ginger’s an herb we love so much, we probably mention it in every course we teach… but especially in the Digestive Health course! Learning to care for digestion is a critical skill for herbalists, and a place herbs can do so much good.

Like all our offerings, this is a self-paced online video course, which comes with free access to twice-weekly live Q&A sessions, lifetime access to current & future course material, twice-weekly live Q&A sessions with us, open discussion threads integrated in each lesson, an active student community, study guides, quizzes & capstone assignments, and more!

If you enjoyed the episode, it helps us a lot if you subscribe, rate, & review our podcast wherever you listen. This helps others find us more easily. Thank you!

Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.

Episode Transcript

Katja (00:13):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:14):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:15):
And we’re here at Commonwealth Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:19):
And on the internet everywhere thanks to the power of the podcast.

Katja (00:23):
Woohoo. Yes.

Ryn (00:25):
So, this is episode 227, and we are going to complete our herbs A-to-Z series. Remember, this is not all the herbs in the entire alphabet because we would literally never end.

Katja (00:37):
We would never end.

Ryn (00:39):
But this is the herbs on our shelves back here in our home apothecary, the ones that we keep ready to hand so that we can make a cup of tea at a moment’s notice.

Katja (00:49):
We have some more herbs than this, but they’re the ones that we don’t turn to quite as often and we just have around. Because once in a while you need them or whatever. But these are the herbs that we really work with on a weekly basis.

Ryn (01:05):
Yeah. And maybe we should even say as dried of plant matter. Because I’ve got some pedicularis just as tincture, you know? I don’t keep that as a tea herb, but that’s definitely…

Katja (01:15):
Once in a while we have a little bit as tea, and it’s very special and exciting.

Ryn (01:19):
It is. It is nice. Yeah. Well, we’ve been on this series since episode 170 back when we started with Achillea. And here we are at Zingiber, yeah. Zingiber, ginger is it. This is no herb and friend herb episode today. This is all about ginger all the time, because was there even a question really?

Katja (01:42):
Yeah. Ginger definitely deserves its own episode. We did not plan it that way. It just happened that way naturally, because naturally that is what would happen.

Ryn (01:53):
Yeah, of course.

Katja (01:54):

Ryn (01:55):
So, we’re going to talk about ginger. But first we’re going to remind you that we have online courses for you.

Katja (02:02):
Yes. We are not just podcasters. In fact, we run a whole herb school. It’s pretty good, and you should try it out.

Ryn (02:09):
Yeah. We’ll talk more about it a little later, but you can find all of our courses at online.commonwealthherbs.com. And I think we mentioned ginger in all of them.

Katja (02:20):
I bet that we actually do.

Ryn (02:21):
We probably do.

Katja (02:22):
I’m trying to think of a single course that doesn’t have a reference to ginger in it.

Ryn (02:27):
I don’t know. It’s a hard ask, honestly.

Katja (02:30):
Possibly the Integumentary Health course, the skin health course.

Ryn (02:35):
I don’t know. Sometimes you get devitalized tissue, and you want to warm it up.

Katja (02:38):
Yeah, it’s probably in there too. I’ll find out to be sure. But I bet it is.

Ryn (02:44):
Yeah. Well, we’ll have to think on that one. But for now we also want to remind you that we’re not doctors. We’re herbalists. We are holistic health educators.

Katja (02:52):
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. So, these discussions are for educational purposes only.

Ryn (03:03):
We want to remind you that good health doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Good health doesn’t exist as an objective standard. It’s influenced by your individual needs, experiences, and goals. So, keep in mind we’re not attempting to present a single dogmatic right way that you should adhere to.

Katja (03:20):
Everyone’s body is different. So, the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you. But we hope that they’ll give you some new information to think about and some ideas to research and experiment with further.

Ryn (03:32):
Finding your way to better health is both your right and your own personal responsibility. This doesn’t mean you’re alone on the journey, and it doesn’t mean you’re to blame for your current state of health. But it does mean that the final decision when considering any course of action, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, that’s always your choice to make. Yes. Ginger.

Ginger: So Hot & Fresh Appreciation

Katja (03:55):

Ryn (03:56):
Zingiber officinale.

Katja (03:57):
You know, I’m actually…

Ryn (04:00):
Zingy bear.

Katja (04:01):
Zingy bear.

Ryn (04:03):
Zingy bear. There you go. That’s right up there with your…

Katja (04:05):
Silly bum? Yeah, exactly. Zingy bear. Why would you not? Why would you miss the opportunity to say zingy bear? I mean, we don’t know how they said it in Latin however many thousand years ago. Maybe they did.

Ryn (04:22):
The entire field of historical linguistics would like a chat.

Katja (04:26):
But there’s a small part of me that is like hi, you have a degree in knowing that that is not how they said it. But okay, yes. I’m really excited to talk about ginger in this moment because perimenopause, y’all, is ramping up. And my body is changing a lot, and that is not super fun. But like any good herbalist who gets sick or has some other kind of health experience, it is pretty exciting from the perspective of ooh, now I get to experiment with plants in different ways.

Ryn (05:06):
It’s instructive.

Katja (05:07):
You know, it’s that weird thing that every herbalist has at some point experienced. Of like ah man, I’m sick. Oh, yay. I get to try that tincture out, whatever. So, okay. So, that’s happening for me with ginger right now. And I can remember filming videos for the Materia Medica course about ginger and feeling very strongly about dried ginger. And that dried ginger was the only thing worth making tea out of and was the only thing that felt good in my body. And I mean, it feels different for all people. And obviously I acknowledged that back then. But I felt very strongly about what felt good in my body at that time. And at this time, I have made a 180-degree change from all of that. And now I feel very strongly that fresh ginger is the only true ginger for me.

Ryn (06:10):
Yeah. You changed your tune a bit on that one.

Katja (06:13):
Yeah, I really have.

Ryn (06:15):
Yeah. Well, we noticed at first when you were like I think that ginger’s giving me some heartburn or something. That’s never happened before. What’s going on here? And then you just kind of backed off on it. Because we would make chamomile and ginger tea, for instance.

Katja (06:31):
With a lot of ginger.

Ryn (06:32):
Most nights. And they might be, you know, not exactly equal parts because chamomile is so fluffy. But maybe a hand scoop of ginger and a couple of hand scoops of chamomile flowers. And then you were like no, you’ve got to dial it back. No, dial it back a little further, actually. I’m getting too hot inside here. And then it was a while later that you came back and were like well, fresh ginger. That feels different.

Katja (06:56):
Yeah. And I mean, to be fair to my esophagus, it’s not like real heartburn exactly. It’s like baby heartburn. It’s just this super awareness of that is too hot. And also the too hotness has changed a lot in my body. I’ve gone from a person who always wore two sweaters to hey babe, can we open the window? And he looks at me like you want to what?

Ryn (07:25):
It’s just very surprising. This has never happened before. Will we accomplish this? Yeah.

Katja (07:32):
And so, there’s a lot going on in my body. And coming to that realization that holy cow, ginger is just way too hot for me. And it is just putting my whole system into overdrive. When it used to be that I needed ginger just to get me going at all, you know? And part of that was why I felt so strongly about dried ginger for my body, because the dried ginger is much more intense.

Ryn (08:06):
Yeah, there’s a bit of phytochemical transformation that occurs as the ginger dries. One way to talk about it is that in the fresh ginger, there’s these constituents called gingerols. And then as they dry, they convert into shogaols. It’s a hard word to say. Shogaols. And it’s like it sort of gets a little condensed, and it acts a little more intensively at that time, at that stage. So, it’s often been observed that yeah, the fresh ginger, it gets the blood moving. And it can disperse the blood out to your fingertips and all of that. And that’s great. But it’s not as centrally heating as the dried ginger is. Dried ginger is like we go to the furnace. We shovel in the fuel. We stoke it up, right? We get a good hot fire going. And that will ultimately spread out from there, and come up to your skin, and give you the stimulant diaphoretic effect and the circulatory stimulant effect out to your periphery and everything. But there’s more heat in the middle of you with the dried ginger than the fresh.

Katja (09:15):
I also can remember this discussion years ago. And hearing you theoretically when you say stuff like that. And when other people say I find ginger more dispersive and whatever. But in my body, that was not true. In my body, fresh ginger was not hot enough to disperse anything. Fresh ginger came in. And everybody was like yeah, no. We’re still stuck in the mud. We’re not going anywhere. You are not motivating enough. And I really needed the shovels of dried ginger to get the fire going warm enough that anything was available to disperse. Kind of like coconut oil when it’s not warm enough, you know? And so I, in my body, never found fresh ginger to be particularly dispersive simply because there wasn’t really any heat to begin with. In order for anything to disperse, I had to first heat up the core. And now that is just not true.

Ryn (10:22):
Right. Right. Yeah. I’ve seen folks post a thermal imaging scan. And they had a side-by-side comparison. This person was given a dose of fresh ginger, and this person was given a dose of dried ginger. And you can just kind of see the difference in the degree of warmth.

Katja (10:41):
In different places of the body, yeah.

Ryn (10:42):
On the body or has moved to the skin after so many minutes past dose time or whatever. It’s really cool to see that. And it’s an interesting way to just note that plants do change when they’ve been processed one way or another. Their influences change. Their degree is what we would be talking about here. The degree of heat in the ginger, that changes as it’s very simply processed through drying.

Katja (11:10):
Yeah. So, I am having a lot of fun with this right now. Because we say every time that we record a podcast. And basically if our mouths are moving, we probably are saying this. That every body is different. And so people experience herbs differently. And this is a huge part of the reason why we’re always like… People will ask well, what’s a good herb for ADHD? What’s a good herb for whatever, psoriasis. And we are like it depends. I have to know more about you to help you find the herb that’s going to help you in this situation. Because I don’t think about herbs in terms of this herb matches to ADHD because that’s just not how herbs work because every body is different. And so okay, yeah. We say it all the time. But it’s pretty fun when your own body becomes different. And you get to feel the ways that other people maybe feel when they’re experiencing this herb. And obviously this doesn’t happen all the time. You can’t just be like oh, it’s Tuesday. And I’d like some new herbal data. I think I’ll just induce menopause for a day and just try it. That’s not going to work. So okay, so you have experiments with your friends. And you invite people over and ask them to try stuff. And specifically you try to invite your friends who have bodies that are really different than yours, so that you can get lots of different perspectives on what you’re trying. And you just have to keep your mind really open that your experience with a plant is not the only experience that human bodies can have with that plant. Because human bodies are all so different. And so yes, I am enjoying this very much is what I’m saying.

Widely Available, Tasty, & Poulticing

Ryn (13:00):
Yeah. It’s been good. So, you know, what we’ve been doing is just to go to the grocery store, and find some nice organic ginger roots, and keep them in the fridge. And then when we’re making tea, slice them right up and put them in there. And that’s good to say because not everybody has access to an herb shop that they can walk into and get the cut and sifted, the chopped up confetti pieces of dried ginger. You don’t always want to work with ginger powder. But the fact that this herb is so widely available at the bodega, at the corner store, whatever. It’s just around. You can find ginger pretty readily. And it’s such a helpful plant. We were saying a minute ago, we’ve mentioned it in almost every course that we teach one way or another. And if it’s not like directly because of the specific powers of ginger to relieve nausea, and warm up digestion, and relax cramping in the belly, and stuff like that. It may just be because ginger tastes nice, and it’s a familiar flavor. And you can put it together with other herbs and make it more palatable. Or you can take a formula that’s a little too cooling for somebody. And you can add a touch of ginger to it and warm it right up. And now it suits their constitution better, right? So, it’s just an extremely useful plant. It’s an extremely versatile plant. It has a lot of talents. And it’s, you know, a great friend.

Katja (14:15):
It is. Yeah. I’m really excited that the fresh ginger is easier for my body to handle right now. Because the idea of not having ginger chamomile tea is an identity crisis for me.

Ryn (14:30):
Yeah. That’s real.

Katja (14:32):
And so I am really grateful. For a while it was just no ginger at all because it just was too hot every time. But now it is oh, okay. No problem. We just have to put in fresh ginger.

Ryn (14:45):
Yeah. One other cool thing you can do with fresh ginger is you can take it and use a vegetable grater. And you can grate it on that and have a pile of wet ginger grates. I don’t know. Whatever you call those little bits.

Katja (15:03):
Shreddy bits.

Ryn (15:04):
Shreddy bits. Yeah. right. And then you could take them, and you could microwave them for a little minute and heat them up. Wrap them in a cloth, and then put that on a tight tense muscle or your lower back where it’s really cramped up and painful. And especially places where there’s tension, and it’s clear that things aren’t moving. Blood isn’t flowing through that area. I keep gesturing to my neck and shoulder area here for all of you who are on the audio. And I’m thinking of folks who have had a lot of tension in the neck and shoulders. And then they’re getting poor blood circulation to their fingertips. And they’re getting tingles or pain or whatever. But yeah, you could take that ginger. Make essentially this is a poultice from fresh plant material. Put that right on. It’ll warm the tissue. It’ll release the tension. It’ll encourage the blood to flow. And it will directly have some anti-inflammatory activity. That’ll just pass straight through the skin and get into there. So, that’s a simple topical preparation with ginger. And again, think about the accessibility factor. Think about the availability. How difficult is it to find that versus kava-infused coconut oil or some other thing. Which would be fantastic and great but isn’t so easy for 49 of the states to get their hands on.

Katja (16:25):
Right. You know, another way to work with that ginger poultice is to take those shreds and wrap them in a cheesecloth or something, so that they’re kind of contained loosely. And you don’t even have to heat it up. You can just put it right on the area, but then put a hot water bottle on top of it, or one of those rice heat pads, or even an electric heating pad. Some of them you can use with water. And so it isn’t so much that you have to heat the ginger itself, but you’re just putting the heat on top of the poultice. And that will bring heat to the whole area and slowly warm up the ginger. And so then you’re getting a kind of larger area of heat and circulation. And the ginger is able to kind of seep in and disperse that way. And if you’re sore, or you have a sports injury, or you’ve been just working all day, or whatever else. Just get on the couch with a show that you really like or an episode of a podcast you love. I have a suggestion. And just put that poultice on and lean against the heating pad or the hot water bottle or whatever. And just stay there for a while. And just allow yourself to just be a potato, a ginger potato for a little while.

Katja (17:55):
It is okay. It is permitted. You are allowed to be a potato. Your kids can make the dinner tonight. Your husband can make the dinner tonight. Your whatever. You can eat cereal for dinner tonight. That’s okay. But just whatever you need to do to take a half an hour, to take whatever you need, to just be a potato for a little while. I feel like in our culture that kind of rest, we don’t really allow it anymore. And if you just lay down. And say I’m just going to lay here on this poultice for a little while because my shoulders are really aching from working on the computer all day. It’s like well oh, that’s not a very justifiable thing to do. I shouldn’t be doing this. I should be doing some other thing. And so I just want to take a minute to be like you should be doing this. It is okay. You are allowed. It is good for you, and it will help. And if there’s something else that needs to be done at that same time, maybe somebody else in your household could do it. Or maybe you could just do it tomorrow.

An Ode to Candied Ginger

Ryn (19:03):
Right. Yeah. So, don’t neglect your topicals. That’s sort of a running theme for us. We try to bring that up whenever we can talking about turmeric, about echinacea. But let’s not leave ginger out of the topical party. Yeah. I also today wanted to make a little time for an ode to candied ginger because okay, yes. It has sugar. Yes, we’re all holistic here. We’re all trying to reduce our sugar consumption. Yes, there’s big problems with insulin resistance and prediabetes and all of that. And I don’t want to ignore any of that. But if you want something sweet, you could do a lot worse than candied ginger, right? And there’s different kinds you can get. There’s the kind that’s covered in the big sugar crystals, and sometimes that’s really nice. Like if you have, say, a birthday cake, and you want to put something very pretty on top of there. We’re having cake. Come on, don’t worry about the sugar. And then there’s the ones where it’s like the naked ginger. And it’s been candied in sugar syrup, but they brush all the crystals off. And it’s just these nice little cubes. That’s really good stuff. I like to have that around sometimes because it’s very portable and not messy. And I’ll talk about our homemade candied ginger in it in a minute, but sometimes there’s a little bit of mess involved. I’m thinking about air airplanes. I’m thinking about travel. I’m thinking about a long car trip, or a bus ride, or whatever across the country. Motion sickness is entirely likely. What if you get seated too close to the bathroom? There are different reasons that you might not feel so great in the belly. And having some candied ginger available, you know, you can get it through customs, through the security line, the TSA, whatever. And it’s just easy. And when your stomach is upset, sometimes you don’t want to eat anything. You might not want to drink even a whole mug of tea, but I could nibble on a piece of this a little bit at a time. Or I could just hold it in my mouth and let the flavor and the juice kind of come down. Sometimes that’s really, really helpful.

Katja (21:10):
Now you can do that also by taking a piece of fresh ginger, slicing a piece of it, and just holding that in your mouth too. But you might not… That’s not necessarily travel hardy. Because it’ll last a couple days out of the fridge, but then it’s not really going to anymore. Whereas candied ginger is totally preserved. You can take it anywhere. It doesn’t need any preparation, and it’s really helpful. It comes in fairly large chunks. I find them to be too large for me. So, if that is the case, it’s okay to buy some. Chop them all up smaller and put them back in the container. And that way when you need one, you have a smaller piece.

Ryn (21:55):
Or you can chop them all up small. And then you can cook them into your cookies that include chamomile powder. And you can have ginger chamomile cookies.

Katja (22:03):
And they’re really good.

Ryn (22:04):
They are really good.

Katja (22:06):
You don’t even need to put sugar in the cookies really, because the sugar in the ginger takes care of it. Or you can put just a tiny bit of sugar in the cookie. But those are really good.

Ryn (22:18):
Yeah. We have a recipe for those, and we’ll put them into the show notes. You can make your own candied ginger. You can take a ginger root. You can just have any old ginger root from the store. You can chop it up into some cubes or whatever shape you like and put it in a jar. Cover it with honey, and let it macerate in there for… What we often end up doing is a couple days on the counter and then move it to the fridge.

Katja (22:43):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. We leave it on the counter until it gets pretty syrupy. It thins out quite a bit. And if the ginger is pretty fresh, that happens faster. And if the ginger is older and pretty dry, that happens more slowly. So, there’s not a specific number of days that is like the standardized number. You just have to kind of watch for it to turn syrupy and then put it in the fridge. And the reason is because it can ferment if you leave it on the counter. Which is not the end of the world but is also maybe not what you’re going for.

Ryn (23:16):
Yeah. Right, right. It’s a little nicer when you prepare this with fresh young ginger roots.

Katja (23:25):
Yeah, if you can get them. They are the ginger roots that are still yellow with red tips as opposed to having the brown papery skin. And usually you can only get that if there are farms around you who are growing it. And believe it or not, here in Massachusetts lots of farms grow ginger, and then you get that fresh young ginger. And it’s just not as fibery.

Ryn (23:52):
Yeah, that’s a big difference.

Katja (23:53):
And it’s a lot juicier. And so it makes a much nicer candied ginger ultimately. But the key here is that you’re putting it in honey and letting it macerate for a month maybe or longer. And ultimately, you’re going to end up with some fantastic ginger syrup. Okay, good. So, pour the honey into its own jar, and now it is ginger syrup. You’re going to do wonderful things with that. But don’t throw the ginger chunks away. Instead, I usually leave them in a strainer over some kind of bowl, so that the last bits of honey can drip down. And I put them back in the fridge because that’s a little bit dehydrating. And once all of the last bits of honey have dripped off, that takes a few days. If you really are in a hurry, you can put them in the dehydrator. Or you can just leave them in the back of the fridge that way. Like put a little cover over them or something. But they will slowly dehydrate themselves until they are chewy ginger candy. And in that case, it’s all honey that is in them. Okay, honey is still a sugar, yeah. But it’s better. For these I would not store them on the shelf. I would store them in the refrigerator all the time. I would not consider these to be travel stable.

Ryn (25:14):
No. Yeah. But they are really lovely.

Katja (25:17):
But they’re really lovely. And they’re fine in your fridge for a long time.

Ryn (25:20):
Yeah. And of course, when you do that process, you get the ginger-infused honey and the honey-infused ginger bits. And so, we can be drawing off that honey and mixing it with sparkling water. Or we can be mixing it in with herbal tinctures to make a nice elixir. Maybe you take some tincture combo, and you want to warm it up a little bit. You want to maybe make it a little touch more palatable to somebody. Okay. Ginger syrup, ginger honey syrup is a fantastic way to accomplish that. So, it’s just a nice thing to have around. And then yeah, now we have these candied bits of ginger. You can eat them by themselves. You can bake them into things. You can marinate meat with it, whatever. You’ve got a ton of options.

Katja (25:59):
They’re really good.

Ryn (26:00):
It’s really nice to have. Yeah.

Grow your Own Ginger

Katja (26:02):
You know, if you don’t have farms around you that provide that fresh young ginger to your local stores, you can become your own ginger farm. It is actually not hard at all. So, get yourself some organic ginger from the grocery store. And you literally can plant it. Make sure it stays damp. But when you look at the ginger, you’ll see that it has some little nubs. It’s got the thumby parts, but each thumb part has a little nub. And if you look at it, you’re like that kind of looks like it could be a little sprout. And you might think that it looks like the sprout of a root, like the tip of a root coming out. It is not. It is more like the sprout on a bulb. A shoot that is about to come up because that is in fact exactly what it is. It’s a shoot. So, you’ll put your ginger pieces in the dirt. Keep it damp. And that little shoot will find its way up, even if you accidentally put it facing down. It’s okay. I mean, try to face it up. But even if you don’t, it will still figure it out. Plants are pretty smart. And it will grow a ginger plant. And it doesn’t take a lot of work. Ginger doesn’t like harsh direct sunlight. It’s like an understory plant. It prefers kind of a more gentle sunlight. So, if you’ve got a tree, put it outside in the summer in a place where it gets some shade from that tree some portion of the day. It’s not just the whole day in the direct sunlight. And it will just keep growing.

Katja (27:49):
We have three pots of ginger that by now the root system or the rhizome system underneath is like the whole pot. Because every year it’s adding to the rhizomes. It’s making the rhizomes bigger and bigger. And after a couple years… Or if you start off by planting a lot of ginger, then it’ll happen much faster. But you’ll get enough ginger that you can harvest it. Maybe not to be all your ginger for the whole year, but enough to make candied ginger with the fresh young ginger. And then over time you may grow more and more, especially if you have a bunch of windowsills that want to have ginger plants in them. Or if you have a greenhouse. It is not a high maintenance plant, and it gives you some leeway in terms of watering. If you forget to water it, it will tell you for a little while before it’s sort of catastrophic. So, it’s just not a hard plant to grow. And you might not think that you can grow it in a cold climate, but you really can.

Ryn (28:54):
Yeah. It is dormant through the winter, though.

Katja (28:56):
It is dormant through the winter. That’s totally fine and great. You do have to bring it inside or if you have a greenhouse. But it’ll flower even. And the flowers are fascinating. They kind of remind me of orchid kinds of flowers.

Ryn (29:17):
They’re very pretty. They’re layered.

Katja (29:19):
Yeah. And not the colors that I was expecting. I don’t know what I was expecting, but they are kind of like a speckly sort of yellowy thing going. They’re really cool. And anyway, this is not an intimidating plant. You might think that initially. But it’s really worth growing your own because the ginger that you get from it is tender, and delicious, and yes.

A Few Ginger Relatives

Ryn (29:47):
Yeah. Pretty cool. Pretty nice to be able to do that. Well, I wanted to talk about a couple of the relatives of ginger just for comparison and for connection. So, you know, it’s got a whole family, right, the Zingiberaceae. The Ginger family is the group that that’s in. And that group includes, probably most famously at this point, turmeric. Turmeric is – would you say – the most famous relative of ginger?

Katja (30:14):
Yes. in terms of the most well-known. Well, maybe cardamom, but people don’t realize that cardamom is a ginger relative. So, I think that turmeric is probably the most identifiable ginger relative. Especially because when you look at the rhizomes, turmeric just looks like a small orange ginger. They look so similar that you’re like oh, these guys are related.

Ryn (30:36):
Yeah. You can see it. Galangal is like that as well. That’s another one where what people consume is the rhizome, and basically in the same ways and most of the same dishes that you might be inclined to put a ginger or a turmeric. Because all of these are going to have in common the basic energetics of the ginger, right? Being warming, having a drying impact. There’s some variance in terms of how relaxant versus how kind of tonifying activity you can get. I think turmeric has some tonification to it – especially on your gastrointestinal mucosa – a bit more there than what you get with ginger. But as far as the muscular layers go, these are all going to get a relaxant activity going for you. Cardamon, like you said, another important relative. But there, yeah, you don’t think of it the same way because we get the seed pods. And we take those.

Katja (31:28):
Right. So, visually you don’t identify that as ginger as much.

Ryn (31:33):
Yeah. But of course, every time you make chai, and you start with ginger and cardamom. It’s a little family reunion. We like to have those. Similar to cardamom is grains of paradise. Because that’s another one where people work with the seeds primarily. And also one called corrorima. So, the two of those are species of Aframomum. Aframomum is their genus name there. Yeah. So, those ones, I haven’t actually gotten to play with corrorima. But we have ordered grains of paradise a few times, and I quite like them. They’re most similar to when you take the little black seeds out of your cardamom pods, and you have those separate. The grains of paradise seeds are really similar to that. But yeah, it’s a slightly different flavor. So, sometimes it’s fun to set up several plants that are all really similar – or in this case closely related – and kind of taste them one next to the other. It’s a good way if you’re trying to build up your herbalist’s tongue, your capacity to note small differences between things and have that gustatory attention to detail.

Katja (32:45):
Yes. It’s a fun game, right? If you get a bunch of herbalists together, and you want to have some herbalist party games. One of them is let’s get a bunch of herbs that are closely related and look really similar. And you have to guess which one it is.

Ryn (33:00):
Yeah. You can do it with fresh herbs, or with tinctures, or all kinds of stuff. Just yesterday one of my pharmacy school students was asking me about a plant called Zingiber zerumbet, which has a couple of common names. One is the shampoo ginger or the shampoo lily ginger. And another one is bitter ginger.

Katja (33:24):
Isn’t bitter ginger calamus?

Ryn (33:27):
Or turmeric. That’s got a bitter element to it. Yeah. But it did make me curious about this plant. And so, I dug into it just a little bit. And it is true that people will take the flowering structures, and do water infusions of that, and then rinse their heads with them. I think it probably produces a little bit of saponin or something like that. But you can also consume the roots of this. It’s just that it has a bitter note to it. And so most people are like oh, you don’t want that. But me, I’m like oh, really? How much does that taste like calamus? How much does that taste like turmeric? I want to try that, actually. Yeah. So anyway, it’s cool to sometimes stop and look at the relatives of your plants. And I think we did something similar way back when we were talking about Artemisia. We were talking about mugwort primarily, but referencing to wormwood, and to sweet Annie, and tarragon for that matter, right? So yeah, it’s a fun way to kind of take plants you know and explore the wider world.

Katja (34:24):
Yeah. It’s funny about that relationship. Because when you look traditionally, ginger and calamus and also angelica all have a really strong relationship in terms of substitutions. Even though now we’re talking about three different families. These are plants that are frequently substitutes of each other because they have such similar properties. Which you can see as an herbalist. You can be like well, yeah. Medicinally, I see where the properties are really similar, but the flavors feel really different to me. But traditionally they were not so different. And there are early American recipes – by which I mean early colonizer recipes in North America – where they didn’t have ginger, and so they substituted calamus in the recipe. And I think to myself wow, that’s a really different flavor. They must have put a lot of sugar or something in there to boost up the sweetness to try to get that substitution. But there are quite a few recipes like that.

Wild Ginger: Not a Safe Alternative

Ryn (35:42):
Yeah. One thing that they might have also done in some cases was to work with another plant called wild ginger or sometimes Canadian wild ginger. This one is not a relative of ginger. It is a fleshy root, rhizome structure that you can dig up, and it has a pungent flavor, and smell, and all of that, and warming quality. The species on this is Asarum, and there’s a bunch. But the most common one or the one people write about most often is Asarum canadense. So again, Canadian wild ginger. This one is not a great substitution for ginger, especially because we like to have ginger frequently. Thank you very much. The trouble is that this plant, this whole genus of Asarum, it contains both a chemical called asarone and another one, which is even more dangerous, called aristolochic acid. Both of those are pretty bad. The thing is it’s not like you’re going to make a tea out of this root and feel terrible immediately. It’s not going to make you vomit. It’s not going to give you dizziness, or blurry vision, or headaches, or something acute. But they can damage the liver. And especially if somebody was to make a habit of consuming this root frequently, they could really end up with some liver toxicity and some damage there. So, I can remember when I first learned about this plant. And I was like wait, there’s a ginger that just grows in the forest right here where I live? Let me get that. But shortly afterward I was cast down into despair because of the hepatic toxicity of it. And yeah, better not to go that way,

Katja (37:22):
But calamus.

Ryn (37:23):
Calamus. Yeah, right. So, just a little warning on that one to round it off. All right. Well, those are some miscellaneous thoughts on ginger for today.

Katja (37:36):
Oh, ginger.

Ryn (37:37):
Yeah. Before we go, we wanted to give you a little advertisement. Like we said, we mention ginger in basically every course, but probably most frequently in the Digestive Health course. Because again, it’s so, so helpful for the nausea, the slow digestion, the incomplete digestion, the low stomach fire, cramping spasms.

Katja (38:01):
Yeah. And just feeling like your whole gut is heavy, and slow, and not moving, and yep.

Ryn (38:06):
The cold patterns of constipation, you know? And then again, to warm up a formula, to improve the flavor of a formula, all these reasons. So, so helpful. But that course is a really fantastic one if you struggle with some gut upsets, if you have some discomforts in the bathroom. I’m sure you don’t want to talk about it. You probably don’t want to hear me talk about it too much. But hey, that’s a part of a lot of lives. And there’s a lot that herbs can do to help.

Katja (38:34):
Yes. It’s amazing how much of a difference ginger can make throughout the entire digestive system, even if you don’t make any other changes. And obviously there are so many other things that if you do a little of everything, you will have even more success. But if there’s literally only one thing you can do to improve digestive health, and it was ginger, you really would make a big difference. But you can learn all of the interventions for digestive health. Everything from occasional heartburn, through to Crohn’s, and Celiac, and IBS, and everything in the middle in the Digestive Health course. Which you will find at online.commonwealthherbs.com. And like all of our courses…

Ryn (39:25):
Like all of our courses, that includes video lessons. That’s the primary format for what we’re giving to you. Each lesson has an associated MP3, so you can download that content and take it with you while you walk in the woods to find some Asarum canadense. See if it’s out there. There’s PDFs of key content and quick guides to remind you about what you’re learning. Each lesson has a discussion thread attached where you can post up your questions and get a response from faculty. You get access to our community of other students and learners, so you can share what you’re up to and see what other folks are doing with their herbs and their herbalism. And there’s access to twice weekly Q&A sessions with us.

Katja (40:09):
More than twice weekly by now. Right. Yeah, because we also have international sessions and clinical sessions. And there’s so many live Q&A sessions is what we’re saying. So, you are not out there learning by yourself. You can come anytime you want to be learning with the whole rest of everybody and also with us live. And you get lifetime access. So, not only can you go at your own pace and never worry that it’s going to get taken away. But also every time we add updates to the courses, you just get them for free, magically included in your account. You don’t even have to do anything. It just shows up magically for you, which is pretty cool.

Ryn (40:50):
So, again, you can find that and all of our other courses at online.commonwealthherbs.com. Okay. Well, that’s it for us. Thanks for listening. And next week we’re going to do something different.

Katja (41:05):
We’re going to do something different.

Ryn (41:06):
Because, you know, it’s time.

Katja (41:07):
Yeah. I’m pretty excited about it. Yeah.

Ryn (41:10):
All right. Well, take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.

Katja (41:13):
Drink some tea.

Ryn (41:14):
And be a zingy bear. Bye.

Katja (41:19):


Join our newsletter for more herby goodness!

Get our newsletter delivered right to your inbox. You'll be first to hear about free mini-courses, podcast episodes, and other goodies about holistic herbalism.