Ginger

(Zingiber officinale) "... great Quantities of it are us'd by the Hawkers and Chandlers in the Country, who mix it with pepper; they reduce it to Powder, and then call it white Spice" (Pomet). Apart from its use as a spice and as a base for alcoholic liquors of one kind or another, ginger has for a very long time enjoyed a reputation for medicinal use, from the prescription of Arabian and Persian doctors for impotence (Dalby), to its still popular reputation as a stomach settler, and this use dates from the earliest records (Lloyd). Ginger tea, even ginger biscuits, help to combat travel sickness, or morning sickness and nausea generally (M Evans). Parihar & Dutt point out that ginger jam is still a favourite for colds and coughs, and it is even used to treat diabetes. In this case, it is ginger juice that is used, mixed with sugar candy.

It was used for asthma in Russian folk medicine (Kourennoff). The recipe given is a pound of ginger grated, put in a quart bottle, which was filled with alcohol. This was kept warm for two weeks, shaken occasionally, until the infusion was the colour of weak tea. This was strained, and the sediment allowed to settle. Then the liquid was poured into another bottle, and the infusion taken twice a day.

Ginger is known as djae, and used in Java as a salve for rheumatism and headaches (Geertz). Similarly in New Guinea, where the usage is more magical: boys at initiation are rubbed all over with ginger, "to give warmth to the body" (La Fontaine). Magic lies, too, behind the Malagasy prohibition on pregnant women eating it. The reason lies in the shape of the root, which is sometimes flat with excrescences like deformed fingers and toes. Nor must she keep the root tied into a corner of her costume, where odds and ends, coins, etc., are usually kept. If she fails to keep these taboos, the foetus will become deformed, with too many fingers or toes; its legs will not grow straight, the deformation making delivery difficult as well (Ruud). Some peoples of the Malay Peninsula have their children wear a piece of ginger tied to a string round their neck to keep harmful spirits away. It is the pungent smell that achieves this (Classen, Howes & Synnott).

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