The spice of life: ginger soothes soul, settles stomach

Photo By: Simply Recipes
Photo By: Simply Recipes
Photo By: Simply Recipes

Ginger is hot! Sorry to state the obvious. Adding it to any ordinary menu item ensures instant foodie clout and guarantees popularity even if a few extra dollars are added to the price tag. As an undying food enthusiast, don’t disparage ginger just because it is a foodie item, the popular culinary accompaniment. Ginger is worth every last piece of our adoration.

In addition to the delicious, warm spiciness fresh gingerroot or powder can lend to a dish, you’ve probably heard of ginger’s healing properties—who hasn’t had an iced ginger ale for an upset stomach? You may have dismissed these claims as nonsense, jumped on board the ginger train shouting “I BELIEVE!” or landed somewhere in between. I have no charts, graphs or appendices with which to shore up my argument, but you’ll just have to take my word for it: Ginger does seem to work wonders on a downtrodden body (and face it, that means you—four years of being under-slept and over-committed take their toll).

I have made ginger tea in such incredible quantities in my dorm room (whether to soothe a troubled stomach, head or emotional state) that the mere act of pulling a fragrant tea bag out of its golden pouch—I recommend Yogi brand—immediately lifts my spirits. Candied ginger chews brought back from a friend’s vacation provide a much needed pick-me-up on late library nights.

I witnessed ginger’s remedial powers in action a few summers ago when I spent a month working on a farm in Maine with a friend, who got strep throat immediately upon our arrival. Patti, farmer and cook extraordinaire, whipped up a brew with fresh gingerroot and raw honey, and we both sipped it in front of the woodstove as drizzle fell relentlessly on the fields and grazing sheep outside. One might argue that Kaitlyn’s quick recovery was due to a hefty dose of antibiotics, but I have faith that spice and warmth and sweetness also did their part.

The experience which fully solidified my conversion from a casual ginger fan to a diehard crusader occurred in San Francisco the summer before my freshman year at Vassar. It was week two of an extended family vacation ‘Out West’ (if you’re from North Carolina like me, you know that this indicates a broad swath of the country).

Back in our little rental apartment after a long day of sightseeing, I reluctantly registered a swollen ache in the back of my throat, accompanied by dogged chills and an exhaustion which left me drooping pathetically over the arm of the couch, pleading for sympathy and Tylenol. I was distraught. “I know I’m getting sick,” I emphatically informed my parents—and I did know. I was 100% positive that I would wake up the next day with a full-blown head cold, or worse.

That night, we went to Chinatown for dinner, a highly-anticipated excursion. I whined softly in the back seat of the rental car, although secretly delighted in spite of myself by the unfamiliar sights, smells and masses of people. Minutes later, we were sitting at a round table on the bottom floor of a big restaurant. I scanned the menu and listlessly ordered ‘Chicken with Ginger,’ downing cup after little white cup of Jasmine tea. After a round of appetizers, of which I only remember fried prawns served in their shells—crunchy and salty and eyeballing us with little black dots on stalks still attached—the main courses arrived.

A steaming platter was set before me, with whole, skin-on chicken thighs swimming in a gorgeous greenish sauce, perfuming the air with lemongrass, garlic and ginger. I ate and ate and ate, and forgot to feel sick, or nervous about college, or anything but warm, satiated and pleasantly sleepy. By the time I left the restaurant, my impending illness had vanished as quickly as it had appeared, and I woke up feeling like I’d never been sick a day in my life.

The Recipe

Ginger Syrup

Adapted slightly from David Lebovitz’s Fresh Ginger Syrup recipe.

I made this syrup a few weeks ago and immediately wanted it in everything—add spoonfuls to lemonade, seltzer, hot tea, chocolate cake batter, etc.. D.L. says the syrup will keep for 2 weeks in the fridge.

8 oz fresh gingerroot, peeled (or not—D.L. says color will be darker but taste is left unchanged if you

leave on the peels) & chopped/sliced into smallish pieces

4 cups water

1 cup sugar (this is cut in half from what D.L. suggests, I found it plenty sweet)

A pinch of salt


Put all ingredients into a pot and bring to boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about an hour. Strain the syrup through a sieve into a mason jar. You can either discard cooked ginger pieces or save them to snack on/put in cookies. They are spicy but sweet and delicious!

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