Native to India, China, and the Caribbean, ginger was one of the earliest spices introduced to western Europe, primarily for medicinal use: English pub keepers used to set out little containers of ground ginger for patrons to sprinkle onto their beers as protection against the plague. Yes, that’s the origin of ginger ale!
Nowadays, powdered ginger is pretty much considered a winter spice, since it plays such a piquant part in seasonal foods like apple pie, chutneys, jams, and gingerbread in all its many variations. But fresh ginger—properly called root ginger—is a whole other phenomenon. While powdered ginger has punch, root ginger packs heat. Jamaican ginger root is currently the preferred variety.
Essential year ’round for authentic Asian stir-fry, root ginger keeps for several weeks in the “fruit section” of the refrigerator. If the ginger root happens to sprout, just chop it up finely and add zip to a green salad.
Root ginger has long been valued as an excellent digestive aid, but during the winter months, it may be most appreciated for its ability to alleviate the congestion associated with a cold or the flu.
Our recipe for ginger tea, made with fresh ginger root, may help loosen up a congested nose or chest or break a fever by warming the body and increasing perspiration. Oddly enough, the tea’s spicy aroma itself may give you the best comfort of all!
Soothing Ginger Tea
Peel a 2-inch piece of fresh ginger root and slice thinly. Put the slices into a saucepan with 4 cups of water and bring to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain the tea and add a squeeze of lemon juice and a teaspoon of sugar, or to taste.