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Sunday, June 3, 2007

Ginseng Revisited


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Wikipedia:How to read a taxobox
How to read a taxobox
Panax quinquefolius foliage and fruit
Panax quinquefolius foliage and fruit
Scientific classification

Subgenus Panax

Section Panax
Series Notoginseng
Panax notoginseng
Series Panax
Panax bipinnatifidus
Panax ginseng
Panax japonicus
Panax quinquefolius
Panax vietnamensis
Panax wangianus
Panax zingiberensis
Section Pseudoginseng
Panax pseudoginseng
Panax stipuleanatus

Subgenus Trifolius

Panax trifolius

Ginseng is 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 (mostly northern China, Korea, and eastern Siberia), 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 Panax quinquefolius. Ginseng is characterized by the presence of ginsenosides.

Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is not a ginseng at all. It is another adaptogen, but a different species named "Siberian ginseng" as a marketing ploy; instead of a fleshy root, it has a woody root; instead of ginsenosides, eleutherosides are present, (see below).


  • 1 Etymology
  • 2 Traditional uses
  • 3 Modern science and ginseng
  • 4 Ginseng, Nitric Oxide, and Reproductive Activity
  • 5 Side effects
  • 6 Overdose
  • 7 Common classification
  • 8 Panax quinquefolius American ginseng (root)
  • 9 Panax ginseng Asian ginseng (root)
    • 9.1 Red ginseng
    • 9.2 Wild ginseng
    • 9.3 Ginseng alternatives
  • 10 References
  • 11 See also
  • 12 External links


The English word ginseng derives from the Chinese term rénshēn (simplified: ; traditional: ), or Cantonese jan4 sang1, literally "man root" (referring to the root's characteristic forked shape, resembling the legs of a man). The difference between rénshēn and "ginseng" is explained by the fact that the English pronunciation derives from a Japanese reading of these Chinese characters. However, the current Japanese word for these characters 人参 (ninjin) means carrot, and ginseng is referred to in Japanese as 朝鮮人参 (chosen ninjin), or Korean ninjin.

The botanical name Panax means "all-heal" in Greek, and was applied to this genus because Linnaeus was aware of its wide use in Chinese medicine.

Traditional uses

Both American and Panax (Asian) ginseng rhizomes are taken orally as adaptogens, aphrodisiacs, nourishing stimulants, and in the treatment of type II diabetes, including sexual dysfunction in men. The rhizome is most often available in dried form, either in whole or sliced form. Ginseng leaf, although not as highly prized, is sometimes also used; as with the rhizome 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. It is considered a wasteful use of important herbs by herbalists.

Ginseng root can be double steamed with chicken meat as a soup. (See samgyetang.)

Modern science and ginseng

As with herbalism in general, ginseng's medical efficacy remains controversial. It has been difficult to verify the medicinal benefits of ginseng using modern science, as there are contradictory results from different studies, possibly due to the wide variety and quality of ginseng used in studies. Another issue is the profit potential of corporate research since ginseng cannot be patented. As a result, high-quality studies of the effects of ginseng are rare. Ironically, one of the better studies involving ginseng actually uses a proprietary ginseng extract [1]

Ginseng is promoted as an adaptogen (a product that increases the body's resistance to stress), one which can to a certain extent be supported with reference to its anticarcinogenic and antioxidant properties,[2] although animal experiments to determine whether longevity and health were increased in the presence of stress gave negative results.[3]

A comparative, randomized and double-blind study at the National Autonomous University of Mexico does indicate it to be "a promising dietary supplement" when assessed for an increase in quality of life [4].

Panax ginseng appear to inhibit some characteristics associated with cancer in animal models; nevertheless, this effect is unclear in humans.[5]

There are references in the literature, including seemingly authoritative compendiums that appear to 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 (Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer). 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 Panax 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 is documented by conventional medical authorities such as Stockley's , and is repeated in several botanical monographs e.g. World Health Organization (WHO 1999).[6][7][8]

Ginseng, Nitric Oxide, and Reproductive Activity

A 2002 study by the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine (published in the annals of the New York Academy of Sciences) 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[9]In males, ginsenosides can facilitate penile erection.[10] This is consistent with traditional Chinese medicine and Native American medicinal uses of ginseng.

Side effects

One of Panax ginseng's most common side-effects is the inability to sleep.[11] Other side-effects include nausea, diarrhea, euphoria, headaches, epistaxis, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, mastalgia, and vaginal bleeding.[12]


The common adaptogen ginsengs (Panax ginseng and Panax cinquefolia) are generally considered to be relatively safe even in large amounts.

Panax 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 (1757 A.D., during the Qing Dynasty): "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."[13]

Common classification

Ginseng roots in a market in Seoul, 2003
Ginseng roots in a market in Seoul, 2003

Panax quinquefolius American ginseng (root)

Ginseng that is produced in the United States and Canada is particularly prized in Chinese societies, and many ginseng packages are prominently colored red, white, and blue.
According to Traditional Chinese/Korean 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 (shadow, cold, negative, female) while East Asian ginseng promotes Yang (sunshine, hot, positive, male) is that, according to traditional Korean medicine, things living in cold places 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 Korean in the old time, so ginseng from there is supposed to be very Yang. And originally, American ginseng was imported into China via subtropical Canton, 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.[14]
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 Agri-food Canada. P. quinquefolius is now also grown in northern China.
A randomized, double-blind study shows that an extract of American ginseng reduces influenza cases in the elderly when compared to placebo.[1]

Panax ginseng Asian ginseng (root)

According to Traditional Chinese/Korean Medicine Panax Ginseng promotes Yang energy, improves circulation, increases blood supply, revitalizes and aids recovery from weakness after illness, stimulates the body. Panax Ginseng is available in two forms:
The form called white ginseng is grown for four to six years, and then peeled and dried to reduce the water content to 12% or less. White Ginseng is air dried in the sun and may contain less of the therapeutic constituents. It is thought by some that enzymes contained in the root break down these constituents in the process of drying. Drying in the sun bleaches the root to a yellowish-white color.
The form called red ginseng is harvested after six years, is not peeled and is steam-cured, thereby giving them a glossy reddish-brown coloring. Steaming the root is thought to change its biochemical composition and also to prevent the breakdown of the active ingredients. The roots are then dried.

Red ginseng

Red ginseng
Red ginseng

Red ginseng (Korean=홍삼, Simplified Chinese: ; Traditional Chinese: ), is Panax ginseng that has been heated, either through steaming or sun-drying. It is frequently marinated in an herbal brew which results in the root becoming extremely brittle. This version of ginseng is traditionally associated with stimulating sexual function and increasing energy. Red ginseng is always produced from cultivated roots, usually from either China or South Korea.

In 2002, a preliminary double-blind, crossover study of Korean red ginseng's effects on impotence reported that it can be an effective alternative for treating male erectile dysfunction.[15]

A study shows that Red ginseng reduces the relapse of gastric cancer versus control[16]

A study of ginseng's effects on rats show that while both White ginseng and Red ginseng reduce the incidence of cancer, the effects appear to be greater with Red ginseng.[17]

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 lead to the wild plants being sought out and harvested faster than new ones can grow (it requires years for a ginseng root to reach maturity). 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 and North Carolina. [18][19] 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 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[20]

Other plants which are referred to as ginsengs may not be adaptogens (although notoginseng is in the Panax family):


  1. ^ a b McElhaney JE et al (2004). "A placebo-controlled trial of a proprietary extract of North American ginseng (CVT-E002) to prevent acute respiratory illness in institutionalized older adults". J Am Geriatr Soc 52 (1): 13–19. PMID 14687309.
  2. ^ Davydov M, Krikorian AD. (October 2000). "Eleutherococcus senticosus (Rupr. & Maxim.) Maxim. (Araliaceae) as an adaptogen: a closer look.". Journal of Ethnopharmacology 72 (3): 345-393. PMID 6685799.
  3. ^ Lewis WH, Zenger VE, Lynch RG. (August 1983). "No adaptogen response of mice to ginseng and Eleutherococcus infusions.". Journal of Ethnopharmacology 8 (2): 209-214. PMID 6685799.
  4. ^ Caso Marasco A, Vargas Ruiz R, Salas Villagomez A, Begona Infante C. (1996). "Double-blind study of a multivitamin complex supplemented with ginseng extract". Drugs Exp Clin Res. 22 (6): 323–329. PMID 9034759.
  5. ^ Shin HR, Kim JY, Yun TK, Morgan G, Vainio H (2000). "The cancer-preventive potential of Panax ginseng: a review of human and experimental evidence". Cancer Causes Control 11 (6): 565–576. PMID 10880039.
  6. ^ [1] Treasure, Jonathan. Medline & The Mainstream Manufacture of Misinformation 2006
  7. ^ Stockley, IH (2002), Stockley's Drug Interactions. 6th ed. London: Pharmaceutical Press.
  8. ^ WHO (1999), "Radix Ginseng", in,WHO Monographs on Selected Medicinal Plants, Geneva: World Health Organization, 168-182.
  9. ^ Hong B; Ji YH; Hong JH; Nam KY; Ahn TYA double-blind crossover study evaluating the efficacy of korean red ginseng in patients with erectile dysfunction: a preliminary report. J Urol. 2002; 168(5):2070-3 (ISSN: 0022-5347)Department of Urology, University of Ulsan College of Medicine, Asan Medical Center, Seoul, Korea
  10. ^ de Andrade E; de Mesquita AA; Claro Jde A; de Andrade PM; Ortiz V; Paranhos M; Srougi MStudy of the efficacy of Korean Red Ginseng in the treatment of erectile dysfunction. Sector of Sexual Medicine, Division of Urological Clinic of Sao Paulo University, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
  11. ^ http://www.umass.edu/cnshp/faq.html
  12. ^ http://www.aafp.org/afp/20031015/1539.html
  13. ^ http://www.itmonline.org/arts/ginseng.htm
  14. ^ Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica, Third Edition by Dan Bensky, Steven Clavey, Erich Stoger, and Andrew Gamble 2004
  15. ^ Hong B, Ji YH, Hong JH, Nam KY, Ahn TY. (2002). "A double-blind crossover study evaluating the efficacy of Korean red ginseng in patients with erectile dysfunction: a preliminary report". Journal of Urology 168 (5): 20–21. PMID 12394711.
  16. ^ Suh SO, Kroh M, Kim NR, Joh YG, Cho MY. (2002). "Effects of red ginseng upon postoperative immunity and survival in patients with stage III gastric cancer.". American Journal of Chinese Medicine. 30 (4): 483–94. PMID 12568276.
  17. ^ Yun TK, Lee YS, Lee YH, Kim SI, Yun HY (2001). "Anticarcinogenic effect of Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer and identification of active compounds.". Journal of Korean Medical Science 16 (S): 6–18. PMID 11748383.
  18. ^ http://www.state.tn.us/environment/na/ginseng.shtml
  19. ^ http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-127.html
  20. ^ Winston, David & Maimes, Steven. "Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief," Healing Arts Press, 2007

See also

External links

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