Common name: Asian ginseng, Korean ginseng, Chinese ginseng
Other names: Man root, life root, Tartar root, heal-all, root of immortality
Latin name: Panax ginseng
Affinities: Nervous system, immune system, endocrine system, circulatory system, reproductive system
Actions: Adaptogen, immunomodulator, stimulant, nervine, nootropic, hypotensive, aphrodisiac, Qi tonic, antidepressant
Specific indications: Weak and fatigued people, mental stress, cognitive problems, sexual debility, depression, nerve damage, weak immune system
Diseases: Type II diabetes(1), allergies(1), Alzheimer’s(2), chronic fatigue(1), asthma(3), autoimmune diseases(3), adrenal fatigue(3), atheroscleorosis(3), erectile dysfunction(1), allergic rhinitis(1)
Parts used: Roots
Energetics: Warming, moistening
Characteristics: Asian ginseng is a small herbaceous plant with clusters of red berries and it has a fleshy, multibranched root (Castleman, 2001; Kuhn and Winston, 2001). It is practically extinct in the wild, however, it originally grew in the mountain forests of eastern Manchuria, Korea, and northern China. It is now cultivated on mass in North and South Korea, and China (Winston, 2007). The ancient Chinese called the plant ‘man root’, or ‘jen shen’, which was translated to English as ‘ginseng’ (Castleman, 2001). There are different types of Asian ginseng (Lim et al., 2015). The Korean ginseng is very popular and comes in two varieties, the white ginseng and the red ginseng. White ginseng is produced by sun drying fresh ginseng, while red ginseng is produced by steaming fresh ginseng followed by drying it to a moisture content of less than 15%. Ginseng is graded in quality according to the number of roots and the size of them, where more and bigger refers to higher quality (Winston, 2007).
History: Ginseng held an important position 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 recommended ginseng for ‘enlightening the mind and increasing wisdom’, he also said, ‘continuous use leads to longevity’ (Castleman, 2001). Since ancient times the Chinese have revered ginseng especially for the elderly. It was used to treat the infirmities of old age such as lethargy, arthritis, senility, menopausal problems, and loss of sexual ability. The Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese consider ginseng to be one of the best all round health inducers.
Current applications: Asian ginseng is one of the most important tonic herbs in the world. It is also a more stimulating adaptogenic herb so it must be used quite carefully to avoid over stimulation, i.e. just in the mornings or avoiding high doses. Due to it’s energy building nature it is suitable for weak, fatigued, and exhausted people (Winston, 2007). It has an ability to normalise immune function, therefore it has a role in cancer, CFS, and autoimmune diseases (Winston, 2007; Kim et al., 2013). It can be used as a longer term tonic to build the immune system strength to fight off various infections.
It can be helpful in boosting sexual performance (Honget et al., 2002), in improving the symptoms of type II diabetes (Vuksan et al., 2008), and in boosting cognitive performance in people with neurodegenerative conditions (Lee, et al., 2008). It is helpful in improving conditions related to poor circulation such as Raynaud’s and heart problems such as hypertension (Winston, 2007). David Winston uses Asian ginseng in his practice for emotional problems, insomnia with signs of deficiency, poor memory, depression, and to delay cognitive decline in the elderly. He uses it in combination with ginkgo, bacopa, and holy basil (Winston, 2007). Thomas Bartram lists it as a heart tonic, old age re-vitaliser, and mood raiser (Bartram, 2013).
Science: The major active compounds of panax ginseng are well known and comprise protopanaxadiol-type and protopanaxatriol-type ginsenosides and acid polysaccharides (Baek et al., 2015). These molecular species contribute to the numerous pharmacological activities of ginseng such as modulation of immune responses, normalization of brain functions, increased activity of the antioxidative system, and attenuation of skin troubles. In vivo and ex vivo model studies show that ginseng has anti-oxidant (Keum et al., 2000) and and anti-inflammatory (Baek et al., 2015; Lim et al., 2015) activities. Notably, in a study that used a in vivo model of asthma red ginseng was found to be more effective overall in reducing inflammation compared with white (Lim et al., 2015).
There are an impressive range of double blind placebo controlled human clinical studies on Asian ginseng. White Korean ginseng appears effective at reducing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s (Lee, et al., 2008), although this study was open label. Korean ginseng has also been shown to be effective at reducing the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, and in this study, they also showed that it was effective at reducing oxidative stress in humans (Kim et al., 2013). A small study found a significant effect versus the placebo in Korean red ginseng reducing diabetes disease parameters (Vuksan et al., 2008). Additionally, Korean red ginseng has been found to enhance male erection strength (Honget et al., 2002). Finally, there is good evidence Korean red ginseng may reduce allergies (Jung et al., 2011). In summary, there exists a diverse array of data that suggest Asian ginseng is a potent medicine capable of improving a range of disease conditions.
Safety: High. However, it can cause over-stimulation, it is one of the more stimulating adaptogens. May be taken in the morning to avoid insomnia that may occur. Avoid with high blood pressure. Do not take with caffeine.
Dosage: See packaging for guidance.
Form: Note, that good quality panax ginseng is quite hard to come by. Traditional knowledge states the root must be 5 years old before harvesting. I have a preference for 6 year old whole root extracts of Korean red panax ginseng and not concentrated by any artificial means, one good supplier is Auragin.
Research on models
Anti-inflammatory: Authors developed a ginenoside-enriched fraction from korean ginseng to find it displayed anti-inflammatory properties ex vivo including reduction of nitric oxide and inflammatory gene expression (Baek et al., 2015).
Anti-inflammatory(II): Another study examined whether Korean red and white ginseng could reduce the production of inflammatory cytokines in a model of asthma in vivo (Lim et al., 2015). They found it could and histopathological findings demonstrated reduced inflammatory cell infiltration and airway remodelling. The efficacies of red Korean ginseng were found to be higher than the white variety.
Anti-oxidant: Heat treatment of Panax ginseng at high temperature yielded a mixture of saponins with potent antioxidative properties (Keum et al., 2000).
Research on humans
Erectile dysfunction: One study (n = 45, double blind placebo controlled) examined if Korean red ginseng 900 mg taken 3 times daily could improve the symptoms of erectile dysfunction (Honget et al., 2002). They found it was significantly better than a placebo taken over 8 weeks.
Type II diabetes: A study (n = 19, double blind placebo controlled) examined if Korean red ginseng improved the symptoms of types II diabetes when 2g was taken with every meal or 6g/day over 12 weeks (Vuksan et al., 2008). They found the patients maintained effective glycemic control and therapy improved plasma glucose and plasma insulin regulation beyond that of usual therapy.
Alzheimer disease: One study (n = 97, open label placebo controlled) examined if 4.5 grams of Korean white ginseng powder taken daily over 12 weeks improved cognitive parameters in Alzheimer disease patients significantly over the placebo (Lee, et al., 2008). These effects stopped after treatment with the ginseng ended.
Chronic fatigue: A study (n = 90, double blind placebo controlled) 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 and the authors attributed this perhaps to anti-oxidant effects they observed.
Allergic rhinitis: A study (n = 59, double blind placebo controlled) 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).
Baek, Kwang-Soo, et al. “Anti-inflammatory activity of AP-SF, a ginsenoside-enriched fraction, from Korean ginseng.” Journal of ginseng research 39.2 (2015): 155-161.
Bartram, Thomas. Bartram’s encyclopedia of herbal medicine. Hachette UK, 2013.
Castleman, Michael. “The new healing herbs.” Bantam Book, New York (2001): 465-471.
Groves, Maria. Body into Balance. Storey Publishing, 2016.
Hong, Bumsik, et al. “A double-blind crossover study evaluating the efficacy of Korean red ginseng in patients with erectile dysfunction: a preliminary report.” The Journal of urology 168.5 (2002): 2070-2073.
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.
Keum, Young-Sam, et al. “Antioxidant and anti-tumor promoting activities of the methanol extract of heat-processed ginseng.” Cancer letters 150.1 (2000): 41-48.
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.
Kuhn, Merrily A., and David Winston. Herbal therapy and supplements: a scientific and traditional approach. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2000.
Lee, Soon-Tae, et al. “Panax ginseng enhances cognitive performance in Alzheimer disease.” Alzheimer Disease & Associated Disorders 22.3 (2008): 222-226.
Lim, Chi-Yeon, et al. “Comparative study of Korean White Ginseng and Korean Red Ginseng on efficacies of OVA-induced asthma model in mice.” Journal of ginseng research 39.1 (2015): 38-45.
Vuksan, Vladimir, et al. “Korean red ginseng (Panax ginseng) improves glucose and insulin regulation in well-controlled, type 2 diabetes: results of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of efficacy and safety.” Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases 18.1 (2008): 46-56.
Winston, David, and Steven Maimes. Adaptogens: herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 2007.