When people speak of exotic Chinese Herbs, we usually may not think of the common cooking ingredient called ginger as being one of these Chinese Herbs - but yes, it is. What we use as a cooking ingredient would be the so-called edible root of the plant which in reality is not a root but rather a rhizome. Though ginger is acknowledged to have its roots in China, this is one of the most commonly recognized Chinese Herbs around because ginger is now also cultivated widely in other Asian countries, India, West Africa, and even in the Caribbean.

The ginger plant itself has the scientific name of Zingiber officinale. The ginger rhizome is usually called the ginger root, and many cooks are familiar with the aroma of this rhizome because of the essential oils that contribute to its distinctive scent. Among Chinese Herbs, ginger can be said to have the unique capacity to stimulate saliva production in those who consume or even just taste it.

Chinese Herbs are often used in Chinese cuisine not just as a flavoring but also because of their reputed benefits to the body. You may find Chinese Herbs like ginger often employed in meat dishes and seafood dishes because of ginger can complement the flavor of the meat or seafood well. Among the Chinese Herbs, ginger can either be used as an extract (or when the juice is squeezed from the ginger root); as ginger powder for breads; as freshginger for cooking; and to add to certain recipes like gingerbread. You might be surprised to that Chinese Herbs like ginger can even be incorporated into popular drinks like ginger ale and ginger beer.

Western cuisine and medical treatment has already absorbed the practice of using some Chinese Herbs like ginger to make snacks (such as ginger snaps); or to spice up the Western-style hot tea or coffee. Though technically considered one of the main Chinese Herbs, ginger also goes by a variety of other names too because it is now widely cultivated in many other countries and widely used in their cuisine as well. 

Chinese Herbs are often used for medical purposes and ginger is no exception to this rule. One reason Chinese Herbs are integrated as an ingredient of some medical preparations is to alter the taste of the product to make it more palatable to the patient consuming the medical product. Ginger is known to be effective against colic, dyspepsia and the common cold (which is why you might be advised to drink ginger powder as a tea.) However, as with all Chinese Herbs, you need to be cautious about ingesting ginger in combination with certain pharmaceutical products (particularly warfarin) because ginger may contraindicate with these medicine. Chinese Herbs like ginger may also produce health results that are far from those desired - for instance, ginger should never be taken by gallstone patients since ginger is known to make the gallbladder secrete bile instead. This counters the commonly held belief that Chinese Herbs may automatically be beneficial to your health.

By Xiang Lin

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