Few spices besides gingerroot are versatile enough to flavor both entrées and desserts, from Oriental meals to gingerbread cookies. Native to South Asia, ginger (Zingiber officinale) has become a popular spice around the world.

Gingerroot has well-documented anti-inflammatory properties. It is rich in kaempferol, a flavonoid that functions in part as a mild Cox-2 inhibitor. In addition, ginger blocks lipoxygenase, another enzyme involved in the body's production of inflammatory compounds. Ginger also appears to contain trace amounts of melatonin, a hormone otherwise made by the pineal gland; melatonin has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. (Pure melatonin has sleep-inducing properties, so it is not recommended as an anti-inflammatory supplement.)

Both ginger and ginger-containing supplements have been found helpful in osteoarthritis, rheumatism, and muscular pain. Ginger has the added benefit of reducing nausea. Although ginger is common in grocery stores, the best form (and most difficult to find) is fresh baby gingerroot, which is especially tender.

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