Though it may not be beautiful to the eye, the “root” of Zingiber officinale is a lovely, warm balm for both body and spirit. Most everyone has cooked with the spice of ginger, be it by chopping the fresh root, adding slices to hot water for a soothing tea, or using the powdered dry root in sautés or baked goods. And, if you haven’t yet explored the different types of ginger essential oil which are available, mid winter is the perfect time to include it in your aromatic palette!
Ginger Essential Oil is one of my favorite essential oils year round, but it’s an especially comforting choice during the colder months of the year. Whether steam distilled from the dried rhizome or fresh ginger “root”, this oil is a warming and comforting go-to for pain relieving massage oils and balms, digestive belly rubs, motivating inhalations, added to blends for awakening sexual energy, or for immune and respiratory support. Who doesn’t need this kind of friend from time to time?
What is Zingiber officinale Essential Oil?
I love the Latin name for this plant. “Zingiber” just sounds spicy! The species name of officinale, or officinalis, refers to a plant with uses in medicine, which most definitely applies to ginger.
Often imprecisely referred to as ginger “root”, more accurately, we obtain ginger essential oil from steam distillation of the “rhizome” of this plant. A rhizome, such as ginger, is technically not a “root” but rather an underground stem. These types of stems grow horizontally under the soil surface, and send out smaller stems and roots from small bumps called nodes. In the case of ginger, the rhizome is the main stem of the plant, and they reproduce asexually – with new plants growing from the nodes of these underground “stems” rather than from seeds. Besides holding ginger’s reproductive energy, ginger rhizomes are storage units, containing nutrients the plant needs to survive. Above ground, you will see tall vertical green stems, long narrow leaves, and although they are not showy, ginger does produce yellow and burgundy flowers!
The essential oil may be distilled from either the fresh rhizome, or from the dried and powdered rhizome. I highly suggest that you smell ginger essential oil sourced from each of these, and compare the aromas, and your feelings about them. They are quite different!
In Chinese medicine, the fresh root was used internally for colds and chills, both to promote sweating and produce mucus. The dried “root” was used to support those who suffered from low energy, and those who were feeling cold or depleted1. Ayurvedic doctor John Douillard of Lifespa states that spicy and pungent ginger is beneficial for all seasons and all body types (vata, pitta and kapha).
If you love ginger, you might also delight in discovering the many forms it appears in the marketplace including and beyond its essential oils. Some of the options include ginger Co2 extract, ginger hydrosol, the powdered herb, teas, capsules for internal use, syrups, candies, and on and on it goes. Note: Ginger is one of those plants which has notable chemical and aromatic differences between the CO2 extract and the essential oils. Do obtain and try them all if you really want to get to know this spicy underground ally. You might notice the uplifting nature of the essential oil from fresh ginger, the hot, spicy nature of the EO from dried ginger and the more potent and pungent nature of the CO2 extract. But smell for yourself!
Where does the oil come from?
Zingiber officinale is native to China, India, Australia and Japan, and sourced for essential oils most often from Sri Lanka, India, and even Madagascar.
Ginger belongs to the plant family Zingiberaceae, which also contains Turmeric, Cardamom, and Galangal. It’s a spicy group sharing similar therapeutic uses. And, like Turmeric, it is in the ginger flesh beneath the rough exterior of the rhizome where the volatile aromatic oils are found in secretory cells. So, in order to access these oils for distillation the rhizome must be either crushed, chopped or dried prior to contact with the steam.
Because it reproduces vegetatively, and not from seed, you can even plant ginger obtained from the produce department of your local grocery store! Just soak it overnight in water, then bury it in potting soil in a container that allows room for growth.
What makes Fresh Ginger Essential Oil so special?
As mentioned above, the aromas of the essential oil distilled from the fresh or dried rhizome are quite distinct. While oil from the dried root has a sharp, hot and spicy quality, and to me seems harsh and a tad unpleasant, that sourced from fresh ginger sings with sweet warm notes of floral and lemony citrus spice. Both are clear to very light yellow, can be felt in the 2nd chakra, and have affinity to the digestive system.
But for me, the beauty of fresh ginger oil steals my heart. It has a softness and feeling of lifting the spirit while also providing a sense of firm strength and support.
As Gabriel Mojay describes in Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit, ginger oil is “indicated for those who may have clear plans and good intentions, but who lack the personal drive and optimism to manifest initiative and take real or immediate action”. In these overwhelming times, this can be a good quality to lean on.
Besides its wonderful olfactory gifts, fresh ginger essential oil is also helpful via inhalation and topical application as an aphrodisiac, and for relieving nausea or excess gas, comforting abdominal cramps and relieving sore muscles.
This oil has no known safety issues, but as always, dilute properly. In perfume blending, ginger is considered a middle note. For aromatherapeutic blending it may be helpful to know that ginger’s aromatic potency is a 4 on a scale of 1-10 (In comparison, peppermint is a 1 – more potent, and lavender is a 7 – less potent – speaking here about the strength of the aroma, not the oil’s therapeutic value.). When blending with other oils, using less of the aromatically potent oils than those with softer aromas will create a more balanced synergy.
Fresh ginger essential oil blends well with oils such as black pepper, coriander, and cardamom, and also with citrus oils such as lemon and grapefruit, and so many more.
A bit about Ginger Essential Oil’s chemical components:
Somewhat complex in terms of individual chemical components, an organic fresh ginger EO Certificate of Analysis (aka GC/MS sort of report) from Eden Botanicals lists 180 separate compounds!
Ginger’s chemistry is much easier to list in terms of chemical grouping as no single component contains a majority percentage of the overall chemical profile.
- Zingiberene 〜 27% (dried ginger EO may be as high as 40%, but with the EO from either fresh or dried ginger, this component makes up the largest percentage)
- α-Curcumene 〜 5%, (dried ginger EO may be as high as 17%)
- 𝛃-Sesquiphellandrene 〜 11%
Jennifer Peace Rhind states that α-curcumene is anti-inflammatory, antitumoral, and gastroprotective, 𝛃-sesquiphellandrene is antimicrobial, antioxidant and antiviral, and that zingiberene is anti-tumoral, and gastroprotective. With zingiberene,there is a potential for drug interactions (with blood thinners)2.
- Camphene – 〜 11%,
- 𝛃-phellandrene – 〜5%
Per Jennifer Peace Rhind camphene has an antinociceptive effect (helps relieve the perception of pain), and 𝛃-phellandrene has anti-fungal properties.
- 1,8 cineole 〜4% 1,8 cineole is an expectorant, pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory.
Now that you know a little more about what Fresh Ginger Essential Oil is, here are some ideas of how you might include this warming oil in your aromatherapeutic tool kit:
- Help relieve muscle pain – Take advantage of ginger essential oil’s analgesic and anti-inflammatory gifts by including it in a salve or oil. Try blending with essential oils of black pepper, rosemary, lavender or juniper berry!
- Strengthen the nervous system in times of exhaustion – The essential oil of fresh ginger, in particular, is a wonderful option for soothing and strengthening a depleted or over-stressed nervous system. When we’re feeling overwhelmed to the point of lethargy, fresh ginger essential oil supports renewed motivation. Try blending with bergamot, frankincense, grapefruit, sweet orange, or lime.
- Relieve respiratory congestion and inflammation – Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, ginger can be helpful for respiratory congestion and inflammation.
- Help to dispel nausea and digestive upset – The ginger rhizome has been used for thousands of years to aid digestive discomfort, gas and bloating and loss of appetite. Try a belly rub containing the essential oil of ginger to take advantage of these properties. A ‘tea’ made with hot water and sliced ginger root can be effective for relieving nausea.
- Supports immunity – When the immune system is weakened by stress, ginger can be a lovely, warming support.
Ginger is there for us – offering its natural grounding qualities along with relief for discomforts from sore muscles to tired minds. I hope you explore and appreciate getting to know this spicy aromatic friend. For recipes and ideas on how to incorporate ginger essential oil into your aromatic wellness, see The Ultimate Guide to Aromatherapy.
1Mojay, Gabriel, (1997), Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit: Restoring Emotional and Mental Balance with Essential OIls, Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont, p. 78
2Peace Rhind, J., Essential Oils: A Comprehensive Handbook for Aromatic Therapy, (3rd Edition) (2020), Singing Dragon, London and Philadelphia, p. 745
Peace Rhind, J., Essential Oils: A Comprehensive Handbook for Aromatic Therapy, (3rd Edition) (2020), Singing Dragon, London and Philadelphia
Tisserand and Young, (2014), Essential Oil Safety, (2nd Edition), Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh, London
Mojay, Gabriel, (1997), Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit: Restoring Emotional and Mental Balance with Essential OIls, Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont
Shutes, J. & Galper A., (2020), The Ultimate Guide to Aromatherapy, Fairwinds Press, Beverly, MA, USA
Douillard, John, Lifespa, (2015), The Power-Packed Research Behind Ginger, https://lifespa.com/ayurvedic-lifestyle/mindful-eating/the-power-packed-research-behind-ginger/