Winter has come very suddenly to my part of the world (it snowed this morning!) and while I wait for my central heating to crank into gear after the summer break, I have been brewing my own “liquid central heating” to keep me warm.
Ginger is generally known as a plant that calms nausea and stomach upsets; what many people don’t know is that it also has powerful warming properties.
According to a fascinating article in Country Living magazine (1) (see below for references), “gingerbread was a staple of both British and American soldiers during the American revolution, as it would harden and keep for a year or longer. Colonists’ apothecaries consisted largely of ginger. The fresh root would be grated, added to boiling water, and steeped for 15 minutes; this infusion was then strained and taken with honey as a cure-all for colds, bronchitis, cramps, and congestion. Teas made with ginger were sipped to relieve cold feet and hands or, when combined with other herbs, as a pick-me-up to alleviate fatigue. Gingerroot was also made into a digestive tonic. And a warm plaster or compress of powdered ginger — often combined with whiskey — was used to relieve pain.”
Because it induces us to sweat, ginger is a great detoxifier (sweat is an excellent way to remove toxins from the body) and immune booster. Indeed, a good sweat may do a lot more than simply assist detoxification: German researchers have found that sweat contains a potent germ-fighting agent that may help fight off infections. Investigators have isolated the gene responsible for the compound and the protein it produces, which they have named dermcidin (2).
Dermcidin is manufactured in the body’s sweat glands, secreted into the sweat, and transported to the skin’s surface where it provides protection against invading microorganisms, including bacteria such as E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus (a common cause of skin infections), and fungi, including Candida albicans.
Ginger also contains potent anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols. Not only have these substances been found to reduce pain and improve mobility in rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, they also have anti-cancer properties. For instance, research suggests that they may inhibit the growth of human colorectal cancer cells, as well as killing ovarian cancer cells by inducing self-destruction (apoptosis) and self-digestion (autophagocytosis) (3).
The lemon and honey in this recipe further boost this drink’s anti-cancer appeal: honey – provided it’s raw, untreated and (ideally) from an unpolluted region – boasts anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-cancer properties (more on this in another post); the ultimate convalescent and strengthening food.
Meanwhile, the plant chemicals contained in the juice, flesh and peel in citrus fruits (e.g. d-limonene in lemon zest, tangeritin and nobiletin in tangerine peel, hesperidin in membranes) that are thought to help remove potentially carcinogenic substances from the body and inhibit cancer cell growth.
Lastly, need I mention that this infusion is just plain yummy, regardless of its health benefits?
Ginger-Lemon infusion (makes 4 cups)
2 inches coarsely chopped fresh ginger root (I don’t bother to peel it as most of the active compounds in ginger are located in or just beneath the skin)
4 cups/1 liter cold, filtered water
the juice of 1 lemon
a pinch of finely grated lemon zest (use organic lemons only)
1-2 tbsp raw honey
Place the chopped ginger in a small sauce pan and add water. Place on medium heat and bring to a boil; simmer for at least 10 minutes, or up to 30 if you like it strong.
Remove from heat and add lemon zest, juice and honey; stir and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Strain into a teapot or individual cups and serve, offering a little extra honey for anyone who finds this too strong. (You can further dilute this by adding a little water.)
Enjoy hot, at room temperature or, in warm weather, chilled (with an added sprig of mint).
(1) The article was featured on WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/warm-up-to-ginger.
(2) Wikipedia entry for dermcidin: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dermcidin
(3) For more details on ginger’s health benefits, see this excellent article on World’s Healthiest Foods: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=72.