Scientific Name: Panax ginseng
Other names: Oriental ginseng, Ren Shen, Man root, Guangdong ginseng
Medicinal Properties and Actions: adaptogenic, alterative, anodyne, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, aphrodisiac, cardiac tonic, carminative, digestive, diuretic, emetic, estrogenic, expectorant, nervine, panacea, sialagogue, stimulant, stomachic, general tonic.
Description: Korean ginseng is a small perennial plant which has five lobed palmate leaves which increase in number with maturity. It has small greenish-white flowers. The root has a sweetish, slightly bitter flavor and is said to look similar to the shape of a human body.
Habitat: Korean ginseng is native to the wet woodlands of China and Korea and is cultivated in Siberia, Korea and Japan. Because of over-gathering it is extremely rare in the wild.
Traditional uses: Ginseng has been used by the Chinese people as early as 200 B.C. It is found in almost every Chinese combination and is said to help strengthen the yang. The Chinese have used Korean ginseng to strengthen the organs, soothe the nerves, increase the power of the mind and lengthen life. Specifically it was used for conditions such as amnesia, asthma, atherosclerosis, debility, diabetes, dyspepsia, epilepsy, fatigue, headache, hyperglycemia, impotence, insomnia, menorrhagia and vertigo.
Modern uses: Though the Chinese were quick to realize the medicinal value of ginseng, scientists questioned the claims that one herb that could help so many conditions. In the 1950s, after extensive studies on the properties of Korean ginseng, I.I. Brekhman, a Russian scientist, coined the word “adaptagen” to help explain ginseng’s actions. The word adaptagen means a substance that brings the body to balance or homeostasis. When taken it produces no side effects. Scientists around the world began to test Brekhman’s explanation and came up with some strong proof that “adaptagen” was a truly fitting description. The following are just a few examples of ginseng’s adaptogenic actions.
Korean ginseng is said to increase the body’s ability to handle stress. It has a mild sedative effect and helps to strengthen the nervous system. Mice who were fed ginseng were able to swim longer in cold water than mice who had no ginseng. Nurses working the night shift found they were more alert during work. Studies found that radio operators transmitted text faster and with fewer mistakes while they were taking ginseng. Ginseng often brings an overall feeling of well-being and may treat insomnia and depression.
Ginseng balances body functions. It brings high or low blood pressure to a regular rate. Ginseng has even shown to help diabetics to bring high blood sugar rates down.
Ginseng works to strengthen the glandular system. This “man root” contains saponins which have a hormonal-like quality and work to improve the function of the adrenal glands for men and women, solving menstrual disorders and prostate problems. By increasing energy and calming the nervous system, ginseng also helps to increase sexual vigor.
This Chinese panacea has been shown to increase immunity. Research shows that it stimulates the white blood cells which filter toxins from the blood and lymph. Ginseng also enhances killer cell and antibody activity.
Many are searching for a way to slow the process of aging, and in many ways ginseng has that effect. Studies show this herb stimulates cell growth and keeps cells alive longer. Ginseng helps to prevent and aid memory loss in older people by speeding up the brain processes. Being old is often accompanied by being tired and weak, but ginseng can help bring back youthful energy.
Dosage and Warnings: Typical use is one or capsules once or twice daily, usually at breakfast and lunch. Korean ginseng is slightly stimulating. It is recommended to periodically abstain from taking it and the benefits will increase when you start taking it again. Korean ginseng should not be taken in conditions of acute diseases, high fever, severe inflammations, hyperactivity or extreme, nervous anxiety. Ginseng should not be used in conjunction with caffeine.
The Healing Power of Herbs by Michael Murray (Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1992).
Chinese Herbal Remedies by Albert Y. Leung (New York, NY: Phaidon Universe, 1984).
“Ginseng” in Sunshine Sharing (Vol. 8 No. 4).