Cultural amnesia is a leitmotif of my novel Tetraktys. Blog posts are ill-suited to breathe life into forgotten cities, religions, and heroes. But they are the perfect place to spotlight bits of lost history under our noses–in the kitchen.
In the West today, most people know ginger as a substance vaguely commemorated in the names of sweet beverages and foods, like ginger ale or gingerbread. Some cooks use it as a powder; the more intrepid, as crystallized candy. In the East, however, it’s common to handle ginger in its original form, as a root.
Ginger ale is a common home remedy for nausea. Many women consume it to alleviate morning sickness during pregnancy. Cultures ancient and modern have attributed a wide range of medicinal benefits to the root. The ancient Greeks consumed ginger “sandwiches”—ginger wrapped in bread—as an after-dinner digestive aid.
Millennia of folk wisdom are now seeing scientific validation. A study published in the medical journal The Lancet in 1982 showed that for a group of seasick Danish sailors, ginger was more potent than the motion-sickness medication Dramamine. A later study, involving students and a nausea-inducing, motorized rotating chair, confirmed the result.
How much ginger is there in commercially produced ginger ale? It’s hard to say. Some brands, such as Canada Dry, don’t even list ginger as an ingredient. The substance is hidden, I suppose, under the generic heading “natural flavors.”
There’s no need to resort to such stuff. An easily prepared infusion of fresh ginger root is delicious and, in my experience at least, a sovereign remedy for nausea.
Ginger Tea (Infusion)
Ingredients: A one-to-two inch knob of ginger root.
Preparation: Peel away the skin and chop the ginger root finely—or grate it.
Steep the ginger in a cup of boiling water for five minutes or so—longer for a beverage with bite. A wire-mesh tea basket works well for this purpose–or you can just leave the ginger at the bottom of the cup. Sweeten with honey. (Avoid sugar, which produces a sour aftertaste.)
Squeeze in a bit of lemon juice, if desired.