Zingiber officinalis

by William E. Bloyer

Medical Herbalism 11(1):1,4-16

We continue our reprint of excerpts of the comments on materia medica of Professor William Bloyer of the Eclectic Institute in Cincinnati, in the 1898 volume of the Eclectic Medical Journal.

This remedy is so common that many of our text books do not deign to mention it; however, it is an excellent remedy and should have a place beside the capsicum bottle on the shelf of every dispensary.

    It is classified as a stimulant, carminative, diaphoretic, errhine, sialagogue, rubefacient, etc. It is pungent, aromatic - grateful to the taste. The dose is from five to twenty drops, well diluted. It is better to give it in hot water, as it is more prompt, and requires less of it. A saturated tincture is made by covering the fresh root with full strength alcohol is efficient and cheap. The root should be fresh - the fresher the greater its power - the old is inert.

    Judging others by ourselves, which is said to be righteous judgment, we believe this remedy is a neglected one. Many times is could be given with, or in alteration with, other remedies to advantage, when it is not done. We get into habits of prescribing certain lines of remedies and relying upon them. If ginger is not within your line, add it now. It is a stimulant to the digestive tract, and, after all, everything depends upon digestion and assimilation. This tract is to the body what the firebox is to the engine - not enough fire and fuel, not enough steam, not enough food and absorption, not enough blood, or life. It promotes digestion by stimulation; it removes or prevents flatulence, thereby relieving or overcoming spasm and colic.

    In some cases of fever, where there is a diminished salivary secretion, together with borborigmus, colicky pains, etc., ginger, though a stimulant, affords quick relief. (A stimulant is not always contra-indicated by fever.) The gratefulness and warmth to the mouth reflexly stimulates salivary secretion and relieves the dryness of the mouth. In such cases the addition of a little specific sanguinaria or lobelia is wise. They assist in promoting the secretions and in reducing high temperature, etc.

    In atonic dyspepsia and enfeebled states of the alimentary tract, with specific nux vomica, ignatia, etc., or with so-called bitter tonics if you prefer them, ginger is an excellent remedy.

    In diarrhoea, in dysentery, in cholera morbus, with nausea and vomiting, with cold extremities and surface of the body, don’t forget ginger. In recent cold, due to a checked perspiration, ginger, either the tincture given in hot water, or the infusion, together with hot water bottles, hot foot or body baths, promptly relieves. We have seen it given in teaspoonful doses of the fresh powder, stirred in a teacup of cold water, drank at once and patient go to bed - get up relieved - cured. Its sudorific and stimulant action makes ginger a valuable for suddenly suppressed menstruation due to cold. It can be given freely alone or with other remedies.

    Ginger should always be at hand when cramps, colic, diarrhoea, etc., due to the ingestion of unripe or stale fruits, hot weather, etc., prevail. It can be added to other remedies to promote warmth and to give flavor. It will add to the usefulness and pleasantness of both bitter tonics and purgatives. It relieves or prevents the griping of the latter.

    Powdered ginger is very active, therefore an essential part of the old-fashioned but useful spice plaster

Bloyer, W.E., Zingiber. Eclectic Medical Journal. 1896; 56(7): 342-343


Ginger has recently attracted the attention of modern science because of its potential anti-inflammatory and antiemetic actions. Bloyer describes these uses above. In the first paragraph, however, Bloyer describes a therapeutically useful property that will likely never be studied by scientific medicine – “warming” properties and stimulation of peripheral circulation.

Stimulation of the circulation was a mainstay of Thompsonian, Physio-medicalist, and Eclectic herbal medicine in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This action in various herbs has also been used in traditional medical systems such as Greek-Arabic, Ayurvedic, and traditional Chinese medicine. The clinical use of circulatory stimulants requires a system of assessment that identifies patterns of constitutional or environmentally induced “coldness.” Cold and/or pale hands, feet, or face, sensation of chilliness, desire for warm drinks or food, aversion to cold drinks or food, aversion to environmental cold or wind, desire for extra layers of clothing or bedding, etc. Many other symptoms may accompany this milieu of poor circulation, such as headache, muscle aches, poor digestion, or delayed menstruation, and any number of conditions which originated with or are exacerbated by exposure to cold. Among the Thompsonian herbalists, cayenne (Capsicum spp.) was the premier circulatory stimulant, and Samuel Thomson himself was largely responsible for the initiation of the import of that herb in large quantities from the West Indies in the early nineteenth century. Thomsonians used ginger in an identical manner to cayenne, and considered it more appropriate than cayenne as a stimulant for children, the elderly, and those overly weakened by disease.

Ginger might be used alone, or more often as an important addition to a formula in cold individuals. As Bloyer point out, it makes a useful addition to digestive bitters. It might counteract the “cold” properties of such bitters in cold individuals. Ginger acts as a digestive stimulant on its own, probably through increasing circulation to the gastric and intestinal mucosa, and might even take the place of digestive bitters in some individuals.

Anti-inflammatory activity

Scientific interest in zingiber was aroused during the 1980s and early 1990s based on traditional herbal usage for arthritis and migraine (Srivastava and Mustafa, 1989 and 1992; Mustafa and Srivastava, 1990). Authors speculated that activity was due to inhibition of the enzyme cyclo-oxygenase, with an action similar to aspirin. Note that Bloyer describes fever-lowering properties for ginger. Inhibition of cyclo-oxygenase, as well as modification of other mediators of inflammation has been demonstrated with the use of ginger or its constituents in animal trials . (Chang et. al.; Guh et. al.; Mascolo et. al.; Suekawa et. al.).

Blood thinning properties

Other investigators have examined whether ginger has significant blood thinning properties, which might be predicted from an aspirin-like pharmacology. In vitro research shows that gingerol, a constituent of ginger, has blood-thinning properties (Guh et al). Bordia et al found that doses of 4 grams of ginger powder daily for three months did not alter various measurement of blood coagulation in humans, while a single dose of 10 grams of the powder reduced platelet aggregation. Jansen et al, however, found that 15 gram doses of ginger for two weeks had no anti-thrombotic effect in humans.

Anti-emetic properties

Bloyer also describes anti-emetic properties for ginger. Recent clinical trials have confirmed this for nausea for a variety of causes including seasickness (Grontved et all, 1988), motion sickness (Holtmann et al), post anesthesia nausea (Bone et al; Phillips et al), morning sickness in pregnancy (Fischer-Rasmussen et al), and chemotherapy (Meyer et al).

Cautions in pregnancy

Bloyers also notes an emmenagogue effect, and the clinical question arises about the appropriateness of the use of ginger as anti-emetic in early pregnancy. Some contemporary herbalists forego its use in pregnancy for this reason (Geller), and reference works on traditional Chinese herbalism list caution on the use of higher doses (3-9 grams) of dried ginger root in pregnancy (Bensky and Gamble; Ni). The United States Food and Drug Administration places doses of ginger at 5 grams or less per day in the “generally regarded as safe” category. The clinical trial of dried ginger powder in morning sickness found it to be effective in doses of 250 mg, taken four times a day in capsules, for a daily dose of 1 gram, significantly below the traditional Chinese dose. The outcome of that trial, although better than placebo, was not that good clinically — about a third of the women thought the milk sugar placebo was more effective than the ginger. Another method of delivery, such as a tea, or even stirring the ginger from the capsules into warm water before drinking, or increasing frequency of the dose, could improve results. Note that Chinese sources already cited list no contraindication in pregnancy for fresh ginger root, which is considered in that system to be less heating and more supeificially-acting than the dried root, while those sources describe an antiemetic effect for fresh root as well as dry. In practice, for the treatment of morning sickness, a tea of the fresh root might be taken by sips as needed to allay nausea might be the safest method.


Bensky, D. and Gamble, A. Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica. Seattle, Washington: Eastland Press, 1986.

Bone ME, Wilkinson DJ, Young JR, McNeil J, Charlton S. Ginger root—a new antiemetic. The effect of ginger root on postoperative nausea and vomiting after major gynaecological surgery. Anaesthesia 1990 Aug;45(8):669-71

Bordia A, Verma SK, Srivastava KC. Effect of ginger (Zingiber officinale Rosc.) and fenugreek (Trigonella foenumgraecum L.) on blood lipids, blood sugar and platelet aggregation in patients with coronary artery disease. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 1997 May;56(5):379-84

Chang CP, Chang JY, Wang FY, Chang JG. The effect of Chinese medicinal herb Zingiberis rhizoma extract on cytokine secretion by human peripheral blood mononuclear cells. J Ethnopharmacol 1995 Aug 11;48(1):13-9

Fischer-Rasmussen W, Kjaer SK, Dahl C, Asping U. Ginger treatment of hyperemesis gravidarum. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol 1991 Jan 4;38(1):19-24

Geller, C.A. Personal Communication. 1992

Grontved A, Brask T, Kambskard J, Hentzer E. Ginger root against seasickness. A controlled trial on the open sea. Acta Otolaryngol (Stockh) 1988 Jan-Feb;105(1-2):45-9

Guh JH, Ko FN, Jong TT, Teng CM. Antiplatelet effect of gingerol isolated from Zingiber officinale. J Pharm Pharmacol 1995 Apr;47(4):329-32

Holtmann S, Clarke AH, Scherer H, Hohn M. The anti-motion sickness mechanism of ginger. A comparative study with placebo and dimenhydrinate. Acta Otolaryngol (Stockh) 1989 Sep-Oct;108(3-4):168-74

Janssen PL, Meyboom S, van Staveren WA, de Vegt F, Katan MB. Consumption of ginger (Zingiber officinale roscoe) does not affect ex vivo platelet thromboxane production in humans. Eur J Clin Nutr 1996 Nov;50(11):772-4

Mascolo N, Jain R, Jain SC, Capasso F. Ethnopharmacologic investigation of ginger (Zingiber officinale). J Ethnopharmacol 1989 Nov;27(1-2):129-40

Meyer K, Schwartz J, Crater D, Keyes B. Zingiber officinale (ginger) used to prevent 8-Mop associated nausea. Dermatol Nurs 1995 Aug;7(4):242-4

Mustafa T, Srivastava KC. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) in migraine headache. J Ethnopharmacol 1990 Jul;29(3):267-73

Ni, M. Chinese Herbology Made Easy. Los Angeles: College of Tao and Traditional Chinese Healing, 1986

Phillips S, Ruggier R, Hutchinson SE. Zingiber officinale (ginger)—an antiemetic for day case surgery. Anaesthesia 1993 Aug;48(8):715-7

Srivastava KC, Mustafa T. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) and rheumatic disorders. Med Hypotheses 1989 May;29(1):25-8

Srivastava KC, Mustafa T. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) in rheumatism and musculoskeletal disorders. Med Hypotheses 1992 Dec;39(4):342-8

Suekawa M, Ishige A, Yuasa K, Sudo K, Aburada M, Hosoya E. Pharmacological studies on ginger. I. Pharmacological actions of pungent constitutents, (6)-gingerol and (6)-shogaol. J Pharmacobiodyn 1984 Nov;7(11):836-48

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