Food Factoids: Root Causes

The Wonder of Valerian Root

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Valerian root has a long history of use as a sedative as well as in the treatment of headaches and high blood pressure. Dating back to the days of Roman and Greek history, valerian root was considered a medicinal herb providing therapeutic and relaxation benefits to ill patients. Today, valerian has been recommended as a supplement to improve sleep disorders, including insomnia, and other health complications including epilepsy and even ADHD. Currently, the primary use of valerian root extract is as a food flavoring ingredient in alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages, baked goods, breakfast cereals, hard and soft candies, condiments, gelatin puddings, and frozen dairy products.

Odd Facts: To a human nose, the odor of valerian is similar to that of sweaty socks!

Valerian root has a chemical very similar to the active ingredient in catnip and acts as a cat attractant. Valerian is also attractive to rats, so much so that it had been used to bait traps. Some versions of the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin have him using valerian, as well as his pipes, to attract the rats.

Hot Facts about Ginger

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Ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe) is a large, tuberous, perennial plant cultivated in many subtropical and tropical countries, is widely used throughout the world as a spice and also has a long history of use as a medicinal herb, particularly to help treat digestive problems. Ginger has become an important ingredient in the product mix of many specialty foods and used in a variety of foods and beverages including ginger tea, ale, beer, wine and a ginger-flavored liqueur called Canton produced in France. The spice is also added to coffee. Western cuisine tends to use ginger in a variety of sweet treats such as gingerbread, ginger cake, ginger snaps and even ginger ice cream. Juice from older ginger roots is used as a spice in Indian and Chinese cuisine. Other uses for ginger include puddings, jams, preserves, pickles and chutneys.

An interesting medicinal feature of ginger is that the chemical compounds gingerol and shogaol present in ginger, which give that pungent flavor to ginger; they are very effective in reducing intestinal contractions and neutralizing digestive acids. It is for this reason that ginger is resorted to as a best cure for some of the simple ailments or common problems such as vomiting, nausea, digestive complaints or some sort of morning weakness.

Ginger Facts

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  1. Americans consume approximately 38 million pounds of ginger a year.

  2. There are more than 1,400 species of ginger. Most are ornamental and produce beautiful, colorful flowers.

  3. Ginger is not really a root, but a rhizome: a tuber-like stem that grows underground.

  4. Ginger’s Sanskrit name is singabera, which means “shaped like a horn.”