A beloved spice in kitchens around the world, ginger can do more than perk up food and beverages. From ancient India and China to Greece and Rome, ginger was revered as a medicinal and as a culinary spice. Medieval Europeans traced this herb to the Garden of Eden, and it has long been valued by traditional healers. It has proven merit for fighting nausea and may hold promise for the treatment of other conditions as well. Ginger looks like a root, but botanically it is a rhizome, or underground stem. Renowned for its stomach-settling properties, ginger is native to parts of India and China, as well as Jamaica and other tropical areas. This warm climate perennial is closely related to turmeric and marjoram, and its roots are used for culinary and therapeutic purposes. Cooks use it as a seasoning in various forms-sliced fresh, candied or powdered. But when it is used as a medicine, its pungency limits how much can be taken in one dose. Thanks to the invention of the gelatin capsule, more potent and convenient fromulations of powdered ginger can be used medicinally.


For thousands of years, all around the globe, this pungent spice has been popular as a treatment for digestive problems, ranging from mild indigestion and flatulence to nausea and vomiting. It has also been helpful for relieving colds and arthritis. Modern research into the active ingredients confirms the effectiveness of many of these ancient remedies. Other uses for ginger, although less firmly proven, have been suggested by various researchers. Scattered reports have linked ginger with relief of headaches, reduction of rheumatoid  arthritis symtoms and prevention of stomach ulcers. For colds or flu, many folk healers recommend chewing fresh ginger, drinking ginger tea, or squeezing juice from ginger root into a spoonful of honey. All may help ease the aches and chest tightness associated with these infections.


Its anti-inflammatory properties suggest that ginger may ease bronchial constriction due to allergies or colds. It can also help to lower cholesterol levels, which reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. It can assist to lower blood pressure and helps stop coughing. Ginger can help most digestive system problems, especially with nausea and colic (it can stimulate digestion and aid assimilation, so that you get better nourishment out of the food you eat). While the research is not totally conclusive, modern studies have indicated that Ginger is effective against nausea and perhaps even more effective than Dramamine with regard to nausea associated with motion sickness. You can use it for morning sickness, (when pregnant, use only a small quantity, as Ginger is also a uterine stimulant) painful or irregular menstrual periods. Ginger also appears to counter the nausea created by chemotherapy. Chemotherapy patients should not take ginger on an empty stomach because it can irritate the stomach lining.


It is high in vitamins A, B complex and C, minerals, calcium, phosphorus, iron, sodium, potassium and magnesium. Ginger can be used as a compress or as a foot bath (foot, hand or whole body), to stimulate circulation, for aching joints, and for colds and flues. Simply take a slice or two of fresh ginger, pour over boiling water, cover (which stops the essential oils evaporating with the steam), then pour into the bath water. Ginger yields an essential oil that is steam distilled from the unpeeled, dried and ground root. The scent is somewhat bitterer than the root but when used in aromatherapy the oil mixes well with sandalwood, cedar wood and patchouli, adding a woody-spicy scent to the mix. 


Growing ginger is easy. The leaves look like a grass/bamboo combination. It is a heat loving plant that needs shade and likes to remain moist - not wet. Ginger is started from rhizome (root) cuttings rather than from seed. Purchase from a garden supply or from the grocery store. Northern gardeners will need to use pots to start their ginger plant, but may plant out as soon as all danger of frost has passed. Those belssed with a warm climate can plant out in the garden in a shady location. Select a well-prepared bed and cover with about 1 inch of soil. Space them 15 inches apart on all sides. It likes a good compost-rich soil, with a neutral to alkaline pH level. Early in the spring is the best time to plant. Older rhizomes may be dug up, divided and replanted at this time too. Keep it slightly moist or wetter if your soil is very light. Select roots from your grocery or garden store that are firm without wrinkles. It is also good to look for small green buds at the ends of the off shoots from the big root. To start your plants in a pot, use a very good quality potting soil, the kind that is loose, drains well and does not pack down when you water. Use a pot that has a diameter at least 4 more times the length of your root. Fill the pot to about 3/4 full,place the root flat on top of the soil, then cover so that you have about an inch of potting soil over the root after you water. Place in a location where the pot will receive plenty of indirect sunlight and soak with warm water, and from then on, be sure that the soil never dries out. You may leave in pot or set out in a shady location after all danger of below freezing temperature is past. Ginger plants cannot stand direct sunlight. An occasional general purpose fertilizer may be applied, but the ginger will do fine without it.


To harvest, dig rhizomes in the fall or when the tops have died down. Allow rhizomes to dry in the shade. In small herbal gardens, a garden fork is ideal. When the rhizomes reach 4 to 7 months of age they're ready to be used for fresh preparations. Allowing the ginger root to mature slightly longer, 8 to 9 months will produce a root that is more pungent and ideal for dried preparations. Before winter, dig up and bring inside, let dry out and store until spring.


Another method is to leave it in its pot, then before it freezes bring the pot inside to a dark above-freezing location, and forget about it until spring. The top will die back, and the soil will dry out. After danger of frost is past, take outside, water, and enjoy.


Candied ginger is peeled, boiled, soaked in syrup, and then rolled in sugar. The leaves are quite aromatic and can be minced and used as a garnish for spicy soups and salads. Fresh ginger root is what you'll find the most beneficial in easing your colds and flu symptoms. Fresh ginger can be added to food or brewed into a tea. Dried ginger root is useful for stomach pain, diarrhea, cough, rheumatism and several other uses. Whether fresh or dried and ground, ginger is a marvelous spice as well as a delicious non-alcoholic beverage. Ginger used in baking livens up cookies, cakes, muffins, and breads Ginger contains a high level of enzymes that break down meat, similar to our own natural stomach enzymes. Ginger can be used as a meat tenderizer. Herbalists recognize ginger as a "carrier" herb and often use it in small quantities with other herbs to spread it through the human system at a faster rate.




Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the cornerstone of smart gardening

Our gardens are microcosms in which plants, insects, bacteria, fungi, earthworms and a host of other organisms dwell. Most inhabitants are law-abiding citizens that go about their business and live in harmony with each other, just as in the human world. Only a few are thugs that exploit the others. For the most part, the good guys police the bad ones. But when populations get out of whack, problems crop up. And here's where "IPM" comes in. It helps you maintain balance in your yard. Several things work to unbalance the population of good and bad in a landscape. For example, planting a number of the same species in an area is a terrific design technique. But if the species is a bug magnet (the favorite food of a pest), the good guys won't be able to keep up with the thugs moving in. Using exotic or non-native species can also lead to imbalance.

Now, the majority of our landscape plants are exotic. And most of them don't get into trouble. But two kinds do:

1.Those growing in areas where the pests of the plant abound, but there are no predators of the pest.

2.The ones that are so far away from their normal habitat that they're constantly stressed and, thus, easy prey.


The fastest way to unbalance your garden is to reach for a pesticide every time you see something a little out of the ordinary. This can be very risky. Say a plant has a few tattered leaves and a bug on it, so you automatically spray an insecticide. Here's what happens:

Pesticide resistance develops. You kill bugs, but not all of them.The ones that live survive for various reasons. They may stay in a part of the plant that the spray can't reach, such as the crack between a leaf and a stem. Or perhaps their internal chemistry detoxifies insecticides. Either way, they'll mate and pass on the traits that kept them alive. Their offspring will have an even easier time surviving the pesticide. Soon, it won't kill any insects. Good bugs die, too. It's hard to find an insecticide that kills just pests.

Spraying can wipe out the good bugs and leave thugs. Sometimes,the good bugs' behavior changes after spraying, and they no longer effectively police the thugs. And other pests may become problems after spraying because you've killed their predators, too. You could have sprayed needlessly. For example, I can think of several causes for tattered leaves: hail storms (bruising), wind (shredding),people or animals (breaking). Or another insect might have eaten them, then moved on or been killed by a beneficial insect, perhaps the one you just sprayed. 


Where does IPM come in? Back in the '40s, everyone thought the then-new pesticides would save the world: a few squirts and no more bugs. They didn't count on pesticide resistance developing or realize that people's misuse of the products could lead to environmental problems. By the '60s, farmers were spraying more and more without good results. That's when entomologists in California came up with the idea of integrated pest management (IPM), a series of steps to direct your thinking when dealing with a problem. It helps you decide whether the problem warrants action and what that action should be. I like to think of IPM as holistic gardening. You look at the landscape as a whole and gather facts about everything going on in it. If you find problems, you choose the best solutions to them. That may involve spraying a botanical pesticide, changing your cultural practices, altering the microclimate or applying a chemical pesticide. Or maybe you do nothing. Whatever it is, you don't do anything blindly.



"A garden always gives back more than it receives."

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