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Acupuncture Blog

How do the Chinese use ginger?


In Dr. Wang’s acupuncture NYC office, patients ask questions about ginger.  Dr. Wang tells them basically the following:

Our body’s reaction to fresh and dried ginger can be very different. In TCM and acupuncture, we call this the nature of a food.

Nowadays in the United States, people use ginger from time to time: ginger tea, ginger candy, ginger capsules, ginger powder, and even ginger beverages. But here all these products contain dried ginger components. For some people, this could be unsuitable for them. Why? We probably see some people around us suffer from fever, sore throat, restlessness, hyperactivity, thirstiness, short temper, prone to headaches, easily dizzy, red faced, red eyed, prone to earaches, etc. However, some other people around us may have low energy, feel cold easily, etc. These people have individual problems that have to meet a particular balance. They cannot always use something that is seen as an all-purpose “cure.” Ginger is a good example of things we assume are all-purpose “cures” to minor issues, but this is a misconception – people have different ways to achieve a balance and ginger may upset the balance even further.

Having dried ginger can backfire on you, while fresh ginger is what you were really looking for because fresh ginger is best for helping with superficial issues of the body, like perspiration from overheating, respiratory issues, edema, helping with an allergic reaction to food, and helping the body detoxify. For example, if somebody has a headache, body aches, fatigue, low appetite, runny nose with clear mucus, and chills; or if we cook at home with some raw ingredients with different tastes or smells you don’t like, you can use fresh ginger root in both situations for help. If you use dried ginger in the first situation, it will not help at all or possibly make it worse. Dried ginger is best for the more internal issues of the body, like one type of stomach problem with the following complaints: nausea, vomiting, low energy, feeling cold easily, difficult-to-digest food, or diarrhea. Fresh ginger root is too gentle and not warm enough (in TCM terms). However, note that each person’s body has a different reaction, because people often divide into those that get cold easily and those that get hot easily. Dried ginger can backfire on those that get hot easily because its nature is hot. Fresh ginger may backfire on those that get very cold easily, because its nature is a little warm. This applies to cinnamon as well. If you are the type that sees that you are often freezing when your friends are fine or warm, then you can benefit from having dried ginger more so than fresh ginger. Overall, herbal medicine is a tune-up for the body to correct its mistakes, since the body already regulates itself well.

The words “warm” or “cold’ here are just conceptual – this does not mean you can really measure cold or warm with a thermometer. We categorize complaints into different types such as the concepts “cold” and “hot/warm.” Imagine we are now in wintertime as we always experience, and everything is cold. Because it is cold everywhere in winter, everything is at its lowest state, and the rivers are frozen, etc. In other words, complaints that are characteristic of things you normally feel in wintertime are categorized into the “cold” type. Of course, in the wintertime, we keep ourselves warm by wearing more clothes, heating our homes, having hot foods, etc. Otherwise, we would freeze to death because the cold is harmful. If we were to ignore the harmful cold, we would be doing the opposite of what we need. We’d make our situations worse and in turn our health deteriorates. In the summertime though, everything is hot/warm, and operates quickly. We eat and drink cold things, we turn on the air conditioner to cool our homes, wear less clothing, all to keep a balanced temperature in our bodies. If we were to ignore the effects of overheating, our health would deteriorate in this case too. As you can see, we try to treat problems by examining the patterns that nature has shown us and applying it to humans.

These are the simple examples we can see clearly. Everybody’s foundation is different. That is why when we have a problem, we cannot assume a common recommendation is all-purpose. We must choose precisely and pay attention to our symptoms’ categorization.