If you've ever sipped on a ginger beer or nibbled a ginger biscuit to ease a delicate stomach (perhaps caused by too much festive indulgence!), you're in good company. Confucius insisted upon always having ginger upon his table, perhaps because in China, ginger has been used to aid digestion and treat stomach upsets for more than 2000 years.
Ginger is revered in Ayurvedic medicine too, where it is known as mahaoushadha, which translates as ‘the great medicine’ and as vishwabheshaja, meaning ‘the universal cure’. With those names, it shouldn’t be surprising that it’s used in more than 250 therapeutic recipes and is even recommended for those who aren’t sick as a preventative: an Indian sutra (verse) recommends that we should all eat fresh ginger before meals to kindle digestive fire, and it is believed to destroy ama (toxins).
Ginger has a long medical history in Europe and America too. A tiny booklet promoting Oxley’s Concentrated Essence of Jamaica Ginger describes it as a “most elegant and certain remedy” for numerous ailments. In the testimonies inside, Mr Spencer is reported to have been “instantaneously relieved of a most violent Windy complaint in his Stomach, which he had been troubled with for fourteen years”.
And in 1832, medical man Thurston Caton wrote to the Central Board of Health to describe how the people of Houghton were using “small doses of calomel and ginger, and bleeding” to try and ease cholera.