Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Ginseng refers to species within Panax, a genus of 11 species of slow-growing perennial plants with fleshy roots, in the family Araliaceae. They grow in the Northern Hemisphere in eastern Asia , typically in cooler climates; ''Panax vietnamensis'', discovered in Vietnam, is the southernmost ginseng found. This article focuses on the Series Panax ginsengs, which are the adaptogenic herbs, principally ''Panax ginseng'' and ''''. Ginseng is characterized by the presence of ginsenosides.

Siberian ginseng is not a true ginseng at all. It is another adaptogen, but a different plant that was renamed as "Siberian ginseng" as a marketing ploy; instead of a fleshy root, it has a woody root; instead of ginsenosides, eleutherosides are present, .


The English word ginseng derives from the term ''rénshēn'' , literally "man root" . The English pronunciation derives from a southern Chinese reading, similar to Cantonese ''jên shên'' .

The botanical/genus name ''Panax'' means "all-heal" in Greek, sharing the same origin as "panacea," and was applied to this genus because Linnaeus was aware of its wide use in Chinese medicine as a muscle relaxant.

Traditional uses

Both American and Panax ginseng roots are taken orally as adaptogens, aphrodisiacs, nourishing stimulants, and in the treatment of type II diabetes, including sexual dysfunction in men. The root is most often available in dried form, either whole or sliced. Ginseng leaf, although not as highly prized, is sometimes also used; as with the root it is most often available in dried form.

This ingredient may also be found in some popular Energy Drinks: usually the "tea" varieties or Functional Foods. Usually ginseng is in subclinical doses and it does not have measurable medicinal effects. It can be found in cosmetic preparations as well, with similar lack of effect.

Ginseng root can be double steamed with chicken meat as a soup.

Modern science and ginseng

It has been difficult to verify the medicinal benefits of ginseng using science, as there are contradictory results from different studies, possibly due to the wide variety and quality of ginseng used in studies. High-quality studies of the effects of ginseng are rare.

Ginseng is promoted as an adaptogen , one which can to a certain extent be supported with reference to its anticarcinogenic and antioxidant properties, although animal experiments to determine whether longevity and health were increased in the presence of stress gave negative results.

A comparative, and double-blind study at the indicates it may be "a promising dietary supplement" when assessed for an increase in quality of life . It should be noted, however, that exclusion rates in this study were high. 124 participants were excluded from this study "due to lack of compliance with the treatment" whereas 164 participants in the control group and 338 participants in the ginseng group completed the study.

''P. ginseng'' appear to inhibit some characteristics associated with cancer in animal models; nevertheless, this effect is unclear in humans.

There are references in literature, including authoritative compendiums, that show interactions with ginseng. Herbalist Jonathan Treasure of the United States National Institute of Mental Health traces the growth of misinformation on an alleged adverse herb-drug interaction between the monoamine oxidase inhibitor phenelzine and Asian ginseng . This originally was mentioned in a 1985 editorial by Shader and Greenblatt in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology. Shader and Greenblatt devoted a couple of lines to the case of 64 year-old woman who took an undisclosed dose for an undisclosed time of a dietary supplement product called “Natrol High” while concurrently taking phenelzine 60 mg qd. She experienced symptoms of “insomnia, headache, and tremulousness”. Treasure contacted Natrol by email and discovered within ten minutes that there was no ''P. ginseng'' in the formula, but instead ''Eleutherococcus'' which was then called by the popular name "Siberian ginseng" and it was given in a subclinical dosage mixed with a variety of other herbs. The purported interaction effects are well-known side effects of phenelzine alone, which had been given in a high dosage and are not at all suggestive of ''Eleutherococcus''. However this misinformed article with a misidentified herb has been picked up in literature searches, megastudies and is now documented by conventional medical authorities such as Stockley’s, and is repeated in several botanical monographs e.g. World Health Organization .

Ginseng and reproductive activity

A 2002 study by the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine found that in laboratory animals, both Asian and American forms of ginseng enhance libido and copulatory performance. These effects of ginseng may not be due to changes in hormone secretion, but to direct effects of ginseng, or its ginsenoside components, on the central nervous system and gonadal tissues. In males, ginsenosides can facilitate penile erection. This is consistent with traditional Chinese medicine and medicinal uses of ginseng.

Ginseng is known to contain phytoestrogens.

Side effects

One of ''P. ginseng'''s most common side-effects is the . Other side-effects can include nausea, diarrhea, , headaches, epistaxis, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, and mastalgia.


The common adaptogen ginsengs are generally considered to be relatively safe even in large amounts.

''P. ginseng'' is not recommended within Chinese Medicine to be administered along with anti-infective herbs unless a person is quite debilitated, because of the fear that the pathogen will be tonified. Herbalists in China believed this and according to Xu Dachun in his brief essay on ginseng :
"if one administers Ginseng of a purely supplementing nature, then one will merely supplement the evil influences and help them settle down. In minor cases, the evil influences will, as a result of such mistaken therapy, never leave the body again. In serious cases, death is inevitable."

Common classification

'''' American ginseng

:Ginseng that is produced in the United States and Canada is particularly prized in societies, and many ginseng packages are prominently colored red, white, and blue.
:According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, American Ginseng promotes Yin energy, cleans excess Yang in the body, calms the body. The reason it has been claimed that American ginseng promotes Yin while East Asian ginseng promotes Yang is that, according to traditional Chinese medicine, things living in cold places or northern side of mountains or southern side of rivers are strong in Yang and vice versa, so that the two are balanced. Chinese/Korean ginseng grows in northeast China and Korea, the coldest area known to many Koreans in traditional times. Thus, ginseng from there is supposed to be very ''Yang''. Originally, American ginseng was imported into China via subtropical Guangzhou, the seaport next to Hong Kong, so Chinese doctors believed that American ginseng must be good for ''Yin'', because it came from a hot area. However they did not know that American ginseng can only grow in temperate regions. Nonetheless the root is legitimately classified as more ''Yin'' because it generates fluids.

:The two main components of ginseng are in different proportions in the Asian and American varieties, and may well be the cause of the excitatory versus tonic natures.

:The ginseng is sliced and a few slices are simmered in hot water to make a decoction.
:Most North American ginseng is produced in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia and the American state of Wisconsin, according to . ''P. quinquefolius'' is now also grown in northern China.
:A , double-blind study shows that an extract of American ginseng reduces influenza cases in the elderly when compared to placebo.

A study shows that Red ginseng reduces the relapse of gastric cancer versus control.

A study of ginseng's effects on rats shows that while both ''White ginseng'' and ''Red ginseng'' reduce the incidence of cancer, the effects appear to be greater with ''Red ginseng''.

Falcarinol, a seventeen-carbon diyne fatty alcohol was isolated from carrot and red ginseng, shown to have potent anticancer properties on primary mammary epithelial cells.
Other acetylenic fatty alcohols in ginseng have antibiotic properties.

Wild ginseng

Wild ginseng is ginseng that has not been planted and cultivated domestically, rather it is that which grows naturally and is harvested from wherever it is found to be growing. It is considered to be superior to field farmed ginseng by various authorities, and it has been shown to contain higher levels of ginsenoside. Wild ginseng is relatively rare and even increasingly endangered, due in large part to high demand for the product in recent years, which has led to the wild plants being sought out and harvested faster than new ones can grow . Wild ginseng can be either Asian or American and can be processed to be red ginseng.

There are woods grown American ginseng programs in Maine, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and West Virginia. and United Plant Savers has been encouraging the woods planting of ginseng both to restore natural habitats and to remove pressure from any remaining wild ginseng, and they offer both advice and sources of rootlets. Woods grown plants have comparable value to wild grown ginseng of similar age.

Ginseng alternatives

These mostly adaptogenic plants are sometimes referred to as ginsengs, but they are either from a different family or genus. Only Jiaogulan actually contains compounds closely related to ginsenosides, although ginsenosides alone do not determine the effectiveness of ginseng. Since each of these plants have different uses, one should research their properties before using. Descriptions and differentiation can be found in David Winston and Steven Maimes book ''Adaptogens''

* ''Gynostemma pentaphyllum''
* ''Eleutherococcus senticosus''
* ''Pseudostellaria heterophylla''
* ''Withania somnifera''
* ''Pfaffia paniculata''
* ''Lepidium meyenii''
* ''Oplopanax horridus''

Other plants which are referred to as ginsengs may not be adaptogens :

* ''Angelica sinensis''
* ''Panax notoginseng''

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