Panax ginseng has held an important position in the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for a long time. In the first great Chinese herbal text, The Pen Tsao Ching, which was supposedly compiled by the emperor-sage Shen Nung around 3000 B.C. Shen Nung, he recommended ginseng for ‘enlightening the mind and increasing wisdom’, he also said, ‘continuous use leads to longevity’ (Castleman, 2001). Panax ginseng is known in TCM as a Qi tonic, that is known is boost the bodies overall energy and well-being. Not in a short-term stimulating way like caffeine, but in a more gentle building way over the longer term.
A scientific term for ginseng is ‘adaptogen’ which means a substance that increases resistance to non-specific stress, they are thought to have a balancing role to play on the body. Panax ginseng is thought to be useful for; normalizing immune function, chronic fatigue syndrome, boosting digestive power, male reproductive health, and longevity. One of the primary groups of bioactive molecules in ginseng are the ginsenosides and are thought to be capable of maintaining homeostasis and have anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-apoptotic, and immune-stimulatory activities (Cho, 2012). It is a good adaptogen for supporting the immune system and nootropic to support concentration. I’ve noticed taking panax ginseng over a few months eliminated my seasonal allergy and improved my resistance to common colds so I did not get the cold I do every year at the same time. I did have to take it for a few months beforehand to build the immune system for the Winter.
There is an increasing body of scientific experiments, including well-controlled work on humans, that supports the use of panax ginseng as an useful medicinal herb. We can see from these 3 studies that panax ginseng affects the nervous and immune systems in humans.
Alzheimer disease: In a human study the authors found 4.5 grams of Korean white ginseng powder taken daily over 12 weeks improved cognitive parameters in Alzheimer disease patients significantly compared with a placebo (Lee, et al., 2008).
Chronic fatigue: A human study applied 1 or 2 grams of ethanol extract of Korean ginseng daily for 4 weeks (Kim et al., 2013). Serum levels of reactive oxygen species and malondialdehyde were lowered compared with the placebo (markers of oxidative stress). Symptoms of chronic fatigue were significantly lowered compared with the placebo.
Allergic rhinitis: Another human study examined whether 3 capsules 2 times (250 mg/capsule) of Korean red ginseng daily for 4 weeks reduced symptoms of allergic rhinitis, they found a significant effect was observed compared with the placebo (Jung et al., 2011).
Some herbalists will warn of panax ginseng being too stimulating or just for old people. I think this is an over generalization. Finding a good dose amount and timing is important. I take panax just in the morning and have found it a pleasant experience. Panax combines well with ashwagandha because it is calming and grounding. TCM superior tonic herbs it is often taken alongside include astragalus, he shou wu, and schizandra.
It is hard to obtain good quality panax ginseng as the roots must be at least six years old for the proper effects to manifest. I have used Korean red panax ginseng w/o artificial processing from 6-year-old roots and I was greatly impressed, surely it has earned its place as one of the worlds great tonic herbs. It is expensive, but I think it is often worth it.
Another point to make is there are other types of ginseng. For example, American ginseng is more calming, cooling, and moistening, but has many of the same benefits. As far as I am aware this is the only other type of ‘true’ ginseng. Again, sourcing good quality American ginseng may be difficult. There is also Siberian ginseng which isn’t in the same genus, but has similar effects.
Here are some properties of panax ginseng.
Actions: Qi tonic, adaptogen, nootropic, immune tonic, male aphrodisiac, anti-depressant
Specific indications include: Fatigue, cognitive problems, low sex drive, general weakness and debility, depression, weak appetite, pale, prone to colds and flu, weak immune system, allergies
Diseases: ADD/ADHD, Alzheimer’s, dementia, fibromyalgia, allergies, CFS, depression.
Energetics: Panax ginseng is warming and moistening.
Combinations: With ashwagandha to build energy and health. With St. John’s wort for mood.
Contra-indications: High BP. Do not use caffeine while taking panax.
Castleman, Michael. “The new healing herbs.” Bantam Book, New York (2001): 465-471.
Cho, Ik-Hyun. “Effects of Panax ginseng in neurodegenerative diseases.” Journal of ginseng research 36.4 (2012): 342.
Kim, Hyeong-Geug, et al. “Antifatigue effects of Panax ginseng CA Meyer: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.” PLoS One 8.4 (2013): e61271.
Jung, Jae-Woo, et al. “Therapeutic effects of fermented red ginseng in allergic rhinitis: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.” Allergy, asthma & immunology research 3.2 (2011): 103-110.
Lee, Soon-Tae, et al. “Panax ginseng enhances cognitive performance in Alzheimer disease.” Alzheimer Disease & Associated Disorders 22.3 (2008): 222-226.