Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth nutrition, fitness and adventure courses, and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+..
What should you do when you have a sore throat or experience an upset stomach or intestinal gas? If you plan ahead, all you have to do is look no further than your kitchen pantry for therapeutic help.
Two especially medicinal foods to have on hand, especially during the colder autumn/winter months, are fresh garlic and ginger root. Not only do these two historically prized foods add incredible flavor and aroma to many different kinds of dishes, they can be used either as regular health boosters to include in the diet or as instant remedies to help relieve a wide variety of conditions.
While garlic and ginger are available in dried powder and supplement form, both are more effective, medicinally speaking, in fresh form. And the fact that they make flavorful additions to a variety of dishes doesn’t hurt. Here’s a look at these two kitchen medicine superstars.
Garlic Benefits and Uses
Garlic Health Benefits:
Garlic has been used for thousands of years as a remedy for many different ailments, including:
- intestinal disorders,
- respiratory infections,
- skin diseases,
- and symptoms of aging.
Modern research indicates that garlic may help improve heart health in a number of different ways. It is a blood thinner that helps to lower both high blood pressure and blood triglycerides. Garlic also has anti-inflammatory properties-one particular study identified four different sulfur compounds in garlic that help reduce inflammation.
Several population studies also show an association between an increased intake of garlic and a reduced risk of certain cancers, including colon, stomach, esophagus, pancreas, and breast cancer. Additionally, garlic is a triple threat against infections, offering antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. Garlic has even been found to be effective at killing antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including MRSA.
Integrative medicine expert Andrew Weil, MD, recommends eating several cloves of raw garlic at the first onset of symptoms as an effective home remedy for the common cold. To make it more palatable, chop garlic fine and mix it into food.
How to Buy and Use Garlic:
Purchase garlic that is plump and has unbroken skin, and avoid garlic that is soft, shriveled, and moldy or that has begun to sprout. The chemical constituents of garlic are relatively inert until it is crushed or chopped, at which time an enzymatic process starts that converts the phytonutrient alliin into allicin, a compound responsible for many of garlic’s health benefits. For maximum benefit, it’s best to wait at least 5 minutes after crushing or chopping garlic before eating or cooking with it.
There are countless dishes-from sautéed spinach and garlic to shrimp scampi-that you can make with cooked garlic, but try to add toward the very end of cooking for more benefit. Raw garlic is the most potent. Here are a few quick ideas to get more in your diet:
- Finely mince a raw garlic clove, mix with 1 Tbs. nut butter or coconut oil, and eat the mixture at the first sign of sore throat or the sniffles.
- Purée garbanzo beans, fresh garlic, tahini, olive oil, and lemon juice to make a quick and easy hummus dip.
- Use a food processor to process garlic, fresh basil, olive oil, salt, lemon juice, and nuts (walnuts are a good choice) to make pesto sauce.
- Add raw garlic to homemade guacamole or salsa.
Ginger Benefits and Uses
Ginger Health Benefits
Ginger root has a long history of being used as medicine in Asian, Indian, and Arabic herbal traditions. In China, for example, ginger has been used to aid digestion and treat stomach upset, diarrhea, and nausea for more than 2,000 years. Ginger also has been used to help treat arthritis, colic, flatulence, motion sickness, morning sickness, painful menstrual periods, and the common cold. Ginger is an effective anti-nausea agent, likely because of its carminative effect, which helps break up and expel intestinal gas.
Ginger contains potent anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols and helps treat some inflammatory conditions. Daily ginger use has been found effective for relieving muscle pain following strenuous exercise, and also has provided relief from pain and swelling in patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or general muscular discomfort. In addition, a study in Cancer Prevention Research found that regular supplementation with ginger led to reductions in inflammation markers in the colon within just a month, suggesting that ginger may have potential as a colon cancer prevention agent.
In ayurvedic tradition, ginger is thought to warm the body and help break down accumulation of toxins in the organs, particularly in the lungs and sinuses. It can help promote healthy sweating, which can assist detoxification during colds and flus. Plus, research has found fresh ginger effective against the human respiratory syncytial virus.
How to Buy and Use Ginger
In traditional Chinese medicine, ginger is suggested for “internal cold,” which includes cold hands, a weak pulse, and a pale complexion
When purchasing fresh ginger, make sure the root is firm, smooth, and free of mold. Unpeeled fresh ginger can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.
Most stores carry mature ginger, which has a tough skin. The easiest way to remove the skin is to scrape the edge of an everyday metal spoon against the ginger. Then grate, mince, slice, or julienne the ginger.
The taste that ginger imparts to a dish depends upon when it is added during the cooking process. Added at the beginning, it will lend a subtler flavor, while added near the end, it will deliver a more pungent taste. Try dividing the amount of ginger you’re using in half, adding the first half at the beginning of cooking and the rest at the very end. This helps to impart the many distinctive flavors of ginger to the dish.
5 Ways to Use Fresh Ginger
- Make ginger tea with a one-inch piece of peeled and grated ginger root per two cups of water. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer for five minutes. Add a dash of cayenne pepper if desired and simmer another minute. Remove from heat. Add fresh lemon juice and non-GMO honey or stevia to taste. Let cool slightly and strain. This is especially soothing when you have a cold or digestive upset.
- Spice up a wide variety of healthy sautéed vegetables or stir-fried vegetables by adding freshly minced ginger.
- Combine fresh ginger, non-GMO tamari sauce or Coconut Secret Coconut Aminos, and olive oil to make a simple salad dressing.
- Prepare carrot ginger soup with unsalted organic butter, carrots, onion, minced ginger, salt, organic chicken or vegetable stock, water, and a few large strips of zest from an orange.
- After sautéing the vegetables and simmering them in the stock until soft, remove the strips of orange zest and discard, then blend the soup in batches in a blender until completely smooth.